The effect of victim race on jurors’ perceptions of lethal use of force

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  • In recent years, a number of highly-publicized lethal police use of force (UoF) encounters have occurred in both Canada and the United States, sparking several social movements and causing public debate about officer accountability. The primary aim of this project is to increase our understanding of jurors' legal decision-making in trials involving police UoF by exploring what jurors discuss during deliberations in simulated trials and evaluating whether the race of the victim affects individual verdicts and deliberation content. Canadian jury eligible participants (N = 78) watched and listened to a fictional trial involving a police officer charged with manslaughter. The victim's race was manipulated to be either White or Indigenous. After rendering individual pre-deliberation verdicts, participants took part in a 60-minute deliberation session, then rendered individual post-deliberation verdicts. Study 1 investigated the relationship between victim race, jurors' perceived police legitimacy, and individual verdict decisions. Although victim race did not have a statistically significant effect on pre-deliberation verdicts, the odds of jurors rendering a guilty post-deliberation verdict was more than 16 times higher when the victim was White as opposed to Indigenous. Study 2 investigated how victim race and police legitimacy relate to the deliberation content of the juries. Analyses indicated that both of these variables play a significant role in jury deliberations. Specifically, jurors were significantly more likely to provide "anti-defendant" and "pro-prosecution" utterances when the victim was White, as compared to Indigenous. Additionally, jurors with negative perceptions of police were significantly more likely to utter "anti-defendant" statements. Overall, this study suggests that, contrary to the assumption of the Canadian legal system, victim race influences legal decision-making in trials involving officer UoF.

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  • Copyright © 2021 the author(s). Theses may be used for non-commercial research, educational, or related academic purposes only. Such uses include personal study, research, scholarship, and teaching. Theses may only be shared by linking to Carleton University Institutional Repository and no part may be used without proper attribution to the author. No part may be used for commercial purposes directly or indirectly via a for-profit platform; no adaptation or derivative works are permitted without consent from the copyright owner.
Date Created
  • 2021


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