Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2008, $496,450)
The impact of forensic science evidence on jurors' judgments is an important emerging question for empirical research on science in the criminal justice system. Unlike DNA evidence, forensic identification evidence (fingerprints, bitemarks, toolmarks, handwriting, footwear impressions,
tire tracks, etc.) draws its strength largely from the subjective judgment of examiners who testify about whether or not questioned crime scene marks and known exemplars share a common origin. Yet remarkably little is known about what factors affect the way jurors think about and
use identification evidence when making their decisions. The proposed study will investigate this issue in a series of realistic yet highly controlled empirical studies with members of the Arizona jury pool in a research program that has two phases. Phase I (Studies 1, 2, and 3) will investigate whether and how jurors' judgments are affected by testimony and judicial instruction pertaining to the reliability of the opinion evidence. Phase II (Studies 4, 5, and 6) will investigate whether and how the evidentiary context in which forensic identification evidence is offered affects jurors' judgments. A subset of studies will be replicated using judges as the research participants. Investigating factors that affect factfinders' use of identification evidence will provide insight into the most effective ways to communicate the value of this evidence in a court of law.