Science, Technology, or the Examiner Experience: What Influences Jurors' Judgments About Forensic Science Testimony?
47 Pages Posted: 13 Nov 2017 Last revised: 27 Apr 2020
Date Written: November 9, 2016
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 online experiment (Experiment 1) and a realistic jury simulation using actual jurors or jury-eligible adults (Experiment 2), this paper investigates three factors that might affect how jurors think about and use forensic science evidence. These factors are (a) whether the forensic science method had been scientifically tested, (b) the forensic scientist’s background and experience, and (c) how sophisticated the forensic science technology is. The results show a strong and consistent effect for examiner background and experience on 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 our findings for criminal justice practices and policies are considered.
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