Law and Order: The Timing of Mitigating Evidence Affects Punishment Decisions
Thinking & Reasoning (Forthcoming)
36 Pages Posted: 1 May 2023
Date Written: April 18, 2023
When we hear about a transgression, we may consider whether the perpetrator’s individual circumstances make their transgression more understandable or excusable. Mitigating circumstances may reduce the severity of punishment that is deemed appropriate, both intuitively and legally. But importantly, in courts of public opinion and of law, mitigating information is typically presented only after information about a perpetrator’s transgression. We explore whether this sequence influences the force of mitigating evidence. Specifically, in two studies, we examined whether presenting evidence about a perpetrator’s background before or after evidence of their violation influenced how severely U.S. participants punished perpetrators. In Study 1 (N=132), evidence about the perpetrator’s mitigating circumstances reduced punishment only when it was presented before evidence about the perpetrator’s violation. Study 2 (N=316) additionally revealed this moderating effect of presentation order across a variety of premeditated and impulsive violations. These findings are consistent with person-centered theories of punishment and with the Story Model of adjudication.
Keywords: transgressions, punishment, punishment decisions, extenuating circumstances, mitigation, mitigating, evidence, mitigating evidence, order effects
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation