Pretrial publicity, the timing of the trial, and mock jurors’ decision processes.

Davis, R. W. (1986). Pretrial publicity, the timing of the trial, and mock jurors’ decision processes. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 16, 590-607.

Pretrial publicity and a temporal interval between the news and trial were explored for their effects upon the jury’s deliberation process and verdict. Publicity (neutral, negative) and trial timing (immediate, delayed) were manipulated in a 2 × 2 design. Twenty 12-person simulated juries were exposed either to neutral or negative publicity and viewed a videotaped criminal trial immediately following news exposure or after a one-week delay between news and trial. Dichotomous pre-and postdeliberation verdicts, probability of guilt scales, trial recall, ratings of companion jurors, perceptions of attorneys, assessments of the news article, and recall of news facts were measured. Deliberations were tape recorded and content analyzed. Juries exposed to neutral and negative publicity did not significantly differ on conviction rate, deliberation length, or on quality of deliberations. Prejudicial news elicited counter remarks about the threatening nature of the publicity to the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Individual juror data revealed that while the news manipulation did not significantly affect predeliberation verdicts or attention to trial events, negative news lowered jurors’ probability estimates of guilt and facilitated their recall of news facts. A discriminant analysis predicting jury verdict indicated a lack of support for prior research showing damaging effects from prejudicial pretrial publicity. Findings are explored for methodological implications and for usefulness of theoretical notions of reactance, and “sleeper effects”. 20% higher conviction rate for juries receiving negative pretrial information about defendant compared with those receiving neutral information. Juries exposed to negative pretrial information tended to hang with immediate trial and acquit after delayed trial. Immediate-trial juries deliberated longer. Deliberation produced a leniency shift.