Law and Human Behavior

, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 453–469 | Cite as

The biasing impact of pretrial publicity on juror judgments

  • Amy L. Otto
  • Steven D. Penrod
  • Hedy R. Dexter


This study examines three previously unexplored aspects of the biasing impact of pretrial publicity. First, this study tests the differential effects of several different types of pretrial publicity on juror decision making. Second, this study explores the impact the presentation of trial evidence has on biases created by pretrial publicity. Finally, the study explores the psychological processes by which pretrial publicity effects may operate. Results indicate that pretrial publicity, particularly negative information about the defendant's character, can influence subjects' initial judgments about a defendant's guilt. This bias is weakened, but not eliminated by the presentation of trial evidence. Character pretrial publicity, and both weak and strong inadmissible statements appear to operate by changing subjects' initial judgments of the defendant's guilt. This initial judgment then affects the way subjects assess the evidence presented in the trial and the attributions they make about the defendant. Prior record pretrial publicity appears to have its effects by influencing subjects' inferences about the criminality of the defendant and this is related to posttrial judgments.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. American Bar Association. (1983).Model rules of professional conduct. Chicago: American Bar Association.Google Scholar
  2. Carroll, J. S., Kerr, N. L., Alfini, J. J., Weaver, F. M., MacCoun, R. J., & Feldman, V. (1986). Free press and fair trial: The role of behavioral research.Law and Human Behavior, 10, 187–201.Google Scholar
  3. Costantini, E., & King, J. (1980/81). The partial juror: Correlates and causes of prejudgment.Law and Society Review, 15, 9–40.Google Scholar
  4. Cohen, J., & Cohen, P. (1983).Applied multiple regression/correlation analysis for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  5. DeLuca, A. J. (1979).Tipping the scales of justice: The effects of pretrial publicity. Unpublished master's thesis, Iowa State University, Ames.Google Scholar
  6. Dexter, H. R., Cutler, B. L., & Moran, G. (1992). A test of voir dire as a remedy for the prejudicial effects of pretrial publicity.Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22, 819–832.Google Scholar
  7. ForsterLee, L., Horowitz, I. A., & Bourgeois, M. J. (1993). Juror competence in civil trials: Effects of preinstruction and evidence technicality.Journal of Applied Psychology, 78, 14–21.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Fulero, S. M. (1987). The role of behavioral research in the free press/fair trial controversy.Law and Human Behavior, 11, 259–264.Google Scholar
  9. Fulero, S. M., & Penrod, S. D. (1990). Attorney jury selection folklore: What do they think and how can psychologists help?Forensic Reports, 3, 233–259.Google Scholar
  10. Hastie, R., & Kurmar, P. A. (1979). Person memory: Personality traits as organizing principles in memory for behavior.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 25–38.Google Scholar
  11. Hastie, R., & Park, B. (1986). The elationship between memory and judgment depends on whether the judgment task is memory-based or on-line.Psychological Review, 93, 258–268.Google Scholar
  12. Hvistendahl, J. K. (1979). The effect of placement of biasing information.Journalism Quarterly, 56, 863–865.Google Scholar
  13. Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717 (1961).Google Scholar
  14. Kramer, G. P., Kerr, N. L., & Carroll, J. S. (1990) Pretrial publicity, judicial remedies, and jury biasLaw and Human Behavior, 14, 409–438.Google Scholar
  15. Lichtenstein, M., & Srull, T. K. (1987). Processing objectives as a determinant of the relationship between recall and judgment.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 23, 93–118.Google Scholar
  16. Moran, G., & Cutler, B. L. (1991). The prejudicial impact of pretrial publicity.Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 21, 345–367.Google Scholar
  17. Mu'min v. Virginia (1991). 111 S.Ct. 1899.Google Scholar
  18. Nietzel, M. T., & Dillehay, R. C. (1993). Psychologists as consultants for changes of venue.Law and Human Behavior, 7, 309–355.Google Scholar
  19. Otto, A. L., Penrod, S. D., & Gross, S. J. (1993).Pretrial publicity and jury decision making: A metaanalysis. Unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar
  20. Padawer-Singer, A., & Barton, A. H. (1975). The impact of pretrial publicity on jurors' verdicts. In R. J. Simon (Ed.),The jury system in America: A critical overview (pp. 123–139). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  21. Reardon, P. C. (1968). The fair trial-free press standard.American Bar Association Journal, 54, 343–344.Google Scholar
  22. Schul, Y., & Burnstein, E. (1985). The informational basis of social judgments: Using past impression rather than the trait description in forming a new impression.Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 21, 421–439.Google Scholar
  23. Simon, R. J. (1966). Murder, juries, and the press.Trans-Action (May–June), 64–65.Google Scholar
  24. Simon, R. J., & Eimermann, T. (1971). The jury finds not guilty: Another look at media influence of jury.Journalism Quarterly, 48, 343–344.Google Scholar
  25. Smith, V. L. (1991). Impact of pretrial instructions on jurors' information processing and decision making.Journal of Applied Psychology, 76, 220–228.Google Scholar
  26. Sue, S., Smith, R. E., & Gilbert, R. (1974). Biasing effect of pretrial publicity on judicial decisions.Journal of Criminal Justice, 2, 163–171.Google Scholar
  27. Sue, S., Smith, R., & Pedroza, G. (1975). Authoritarianism, pretrial publicity and awareness of bias in simulated jurors.Psycological Reports, 37, 1299–1302.Google Scholar
  28. Tans, M., & Chaffee, S. (1966). Pretrial publicity and juror prejudice.Journalism Quarterly, 43, 647–654.Google Scholar
  29. Vidmar, N., & Judson, J. (1981). The use of social sciences in a change of venue application.Canadian Bar Review, 59, 76–102.Google Scholar
  30. Visher, C. A. (1987). Juror decision making: The importance of evidence.Law and Human Behavior, 11, 1–17.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Amy L. Otto
    • 1
  • Steven D. Penrod
    • 1
  • Hedy R. Dexter
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA
  2. 2.University of Northern ColoradoUSA

Personalised recommendations