Veterans on trial: juror attitudes and behaviors toward veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder

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Hoge, Terhakopian, Castro, Messer, and Engel (2007) found that 16.6% of the soldiers in their study met criteria for PTSD after their return from Iraq or Afghanistan. Military servicemen and women who have the symptoms of PTSD experience much greater difficulty in readjusting to civilian life, with some committing offenses that result in arrest and criminal charges. How jurors from the community respond to this type of defendant may be depend upon attitudes and perceptions of veterans and of those who are diagnosed with PTSD. The current study examined the effect on jurors of the defendant characteristics of military status and a diagnosis of PTSD. This study also examined the moderating effects that individual juror characteristics may have on sentencing behavior and attitudes or feelings about the defendant. Results provide support for a positive bias toward veterans with PTSD who become involved in the criminal justice system. Community jurors exhibited a modest tendency to reduce a sentence for defendants who were veterans with PTSD. Analysis of juror characteristics also demonstrated that more punitive jurors were more likely to select higher sentences for defendants, regardless of condition. Perception of defendant blame correlated positively with jurors' decisions regarding guilty verdict and increased sentence. Jurors who tended to blame defendants less were more empathic toward defendants with PTSD, had more positive attitudes toward mentally ill people, and had more liberal political views. Jurors who tended to blame to a greater degree were more socially conservative in their political views, more punitive in general, and had less positive attitudes toward the people who are mentally ill. This research study adds to the empirical psycholegal literature on the impact of extralegal factors on juror decision-making. Although empirical studies have found juror bias related to race (Skolnick & Shaw, 1997; Sommers & Ellsworth, 2000), gender (Nelson, 2004; Williams, Demuth, & Holocomb, 2007), and other extra-legal defendant characteristics, no extant research has yet focused on potential juror bias for stress-disordered veterans or veterans in general.

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Clinical psychology, Law, Criminology