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Science, Technology, or the Expert Witness: What Influences Jurors' Judgments About Forensic Science Testimony?

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2016
13 pages
Using an online experiment (Experiment 1) and a realistic jury simulation that used actual jurors or jury-eligible adults (Experiment 2), this study examined three factors that might affect how jurors think about and use forensic science evidence.
The impact of forensic science evidence on jurors’ judgments is critically important to the criminal justice system. The assignment of low or high weight to such testimony can be the difference between acquittal or conviction. Many of the traditional forensic sciences (e.g., fingerprints and bitemarks) draw their strength largely from the subjective judgments of examiners who testify about whether evidentiary prints or other markings are consistent with (or “match”) known markings from a person or object. In an examination of three factors that might influence how jurors think about and use forensic science evidence, the current study focused on (a) whether the forensic science method had been scientifically tested, (b) the forensic scientist’s background and experience, and (c) the sophistication of the forensic science technology. The results show a strong and consistent effect for examiner background and experience on jurors’ evidence-strength judgments, no effect for forensic technology sophistication, and a limited and inconsistent effect for scientific testing (present in the online experiments, absent in the realistic jury simulation). These findings raise concerns about potential undue influence of examiner background and experience on jurors’ judgments and lack of clear influence of scientific testing. The implications of these findings for criminal justice practices and policies are discussed. (Publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2016