New advanced technology is entering the courtroom as evidence and researchers are beginning to explore the idea that this new advanced evidence is playing a major role in influencing the juror’s outcome of the case. Recently, New York University and Yale University teamed up to conduct a study on the effect that video evidence has on jurors, and if it makes individual’s bias stronger. In particular, they asked the individuals in the study to watch the videos as if they were jurors and then access the punishment.
These researchers found that “where people look at when they watch the video evidence varies wildly and has a big impact on bias in legal punishment decisions.” This study aimed to find why people fail to be objective when confronted with video evidence. These researches conducted two different experiment groups that in total watched three different videos. The first group watched two different videos, each a 45 second video depicting an altercation between a police officer and a civilian. The second group, to eliminate potential bias toward or against police officers, watched an altercation between two college students. When participants watched the videos, the researchers used eye-tracking technology to gauge where the participants were fixating their focus.
In the first study the researchers found that “among participants who looked frequently at the police officer, the degree to which they identified with his social group predicted biased punishment decisions. Participants punished the officer far more severely if they did not identify with his group than if they did. By contrast, among participants who looked less often at the officer, group identification did not affect punishment decisions. Attention shifted punishment decisions by changing participants’ interpretations of the legal facts of the case.” The same group of participants were asked to view another video, this time some were instructed to watch the police officer and others were instructed to watch the civilian. The eye-tracking technology confirmed that they followed their directions and the results “echoed those of the first experiment. Those who followed directions to pay closer attention to the police officer rather than to the civilian saw his actions as more incriminating and sought to punish him more severely if they felt little social connection to police officers. In other words, close attention to the videotape enhanced participants’ pre-existing biases of police rather than diminishing them.” The third video was watched by a new group of participants. These finds were consistent with the first two findings. The results showed that close visual attention enhanced biased interpretations of what transpired and influenced punishment decisions.
This study should be noted by practicing attorneys that appear before juries. Attorneys should consider the effects that video evidence may have on a jury. Although the prosecutor or defense attorney may believe the video will help win his or her case through “hard evidence” it may also hinder the case if the jury pays close attention to the video and thus develops strong bias while watching the video. These biases can ultimately influence their punishment decisions.