Trial by Tabloid: Can One-Time Education Reduce Pretrial Publicity Bias?
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Negative-defendant pretrial publicity (PTP) is prevalent and can threaten a defendant’s right to a fair trial. Extensive research supports the contention that negative defendant PTP can bias juror decision making by rendering a juror incapable of determining a verdict based solely on trial evidence (Steblay et al., 1999; Ruva et al., 2007). Voir dire is used to assess potential jurors’ knowledge of the publicity surrounding the case and potential bias against the defendant. In high profile cases it might be difficult to find jurors who have not seen or heard anything about the case. A variety of safeguards have been proposed to address the negative effects of PTP (e.g., voir dire, deliberation), though with minimal impact. The state of Washington recently developed an educational video on unconscious bias. This video is shown to jurors just prior to voir dire to reduce bias and increase the fairness of jurors’ decisions. Yet, little is known regarding the effectiveness of this proposed remedy. The current study tested whether this video effectively reduces PTP-related biases. A total of 251 students participated in the 2 (PTP: negative PTP vs. unrelated) x 2 (Remedy One-time education: debiasing video vs. control) between subject’s factorial design. When participants received PTP, they were more likely to convict, found the defendant more culpable and less credible, and sentenced more harshly. Neither one-time education nor its interaction with PTP affected any outcomes.