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Attribution of responsibility for a serious criminal act: innocent until proven guilty?
The sex of the criminal defendant and the defendant's criminal history were varied in a factorial design. Two hundred and forty male and female subjects, instructed to assume the role of juror, read an account of a defendant implicated in a criminal homicide. On the basis of attribution theory, it was hypothesized that female defendants would be held more responsible for the criminal act than males. If personal similarity were salient, an interaction between the sex of subject and the sex of stimulus person factors was predicted. Additionally, a defendant's criminal past was expected to affect the juror's perception of responsibility. Only the manipulation of the defendant's past generated significant data. Defendants who had criminal records were seen as more responsible for the criminal homicide than defendants who had never before been involved with the law enforcement system. These results were discussed in relationship to the presumption that a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty. Stereotypical responses of jurors to defendants on trial were also considered.