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Huff -

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Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice





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Recent police shootings of African Americans have led citizens to question police officers’ use of force. Thus, it is important to determine whether mock jurors can distinguish between justifiable and unjustifiable police shootings—and whether their judgements depend on victim race. Media attention could lead jurors to be more punitive in cases in which an officer shoots an African American (compared to Caucasian) victim. A punitive verdict would reflect society’s opposition to such shootings, as suggested by the bandwagon effect. In a 2 (Shooting: Justified/Unjustified) x 2 (Victim’s race: African American/ Caucasian) experiment, mock jurors read a trial summary involving a fatal police shooting and indicated verdicts. Unjustifiable shootings resulted in less positive perceptions of the officer and perceptions that the shooting was less justified. When the victim was African American, participants had more positive perceptions of the victim, were more certain in a guilty verdict, and perceived the shooting as less justified. The interaction indicated that victim race affected verdicts, but only when the shooting was unjustified. Results suggest there is bias against officers who unjustifiably shoot African Americans, supporting the bandwagon effect. Implications for the role of media effects, psychology, and the legal system are discussed.


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