Impact of Gruesome Photographic Evidence on Legal Decisions: A Meta-Analysis
40 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2018
Date Written: February 8, 2018
Gruesome crime scene and autopsy photographs are admissible evidence under the Federal Rules of Evidence if their probative value substantially outweighs their prejudicial impact. Despite important methodological differences and mixed results from past studies, recommendations from the psychological literature have been made about the prejudicial impact of gruesome photographs perhaps prematurely. This meta-analysis investigates whether there is sufficient empirical evidence that presenting gruesome photographs in a trial affects legal decisions. The analysis of 23 studies and 4,868 participants showed a small but statistically significant effect of gruesome photographs in increasing guilty/liable verdicts or punishments (Hedge’s g = 0.143, 95% CI: [0.055, 0.232]). However, this was significantly (Q(1) = 8.086, p = .004) and substantially moderated by an important methodological distinction: the effect was much larger when studies compared gruesome photographs to not showing any photographs (g = 0.450) than to showing neutral photographs (g = 0.077). These results suggest that gruesome photographs do increase affirmative verdicts, both through a small effect of gruesome content as well as a larger additive of having any visual material. These findings help shed light on the mixed empirical results and suggest important additional research needed.
Keywords: Gruesome photographs, evidence, juror verdicts, meta-analysis
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