The Influence of Social Dominance Orientation, Citizenship Status, and Ethnicity on Juror Punitiveness
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There are an estimated 44 million immigrants (both illegal and legal) living in the United States as of 2017 (Jones, 2019; Radford, 2019). Paired with the current immigration policies and political climate, there is concern for due process and equal protection for all, especially for the immigrant population. Various theories suggest that those who are high in the social hierarchy will assign unfair punishments to others they see as political or economic threats, and as a way to maintain social control. In the context of criminal trials, factors such as the citizenship status and ethnicity of a defendant may bias juror decision making, threatening a defendant’s right to a fair trial. Thus, the purpose of this study was to understand how factors such as social dominance orientation, citizenship status, and ethnicity impact punitive attitudes amongst jurors. A total of 878 racially diverse students were recruited to read one of six trial transcripts that varied in a defendant’s citizenship status (documented, legal non-citizen, undocumented) and ethnicity (Mexican or White Canadian). Citizenship status did not affect jurors. However, the Canadian defendant was convicted more, given a longer sentence, and found more culpable and less credible than the Mexican defendant. These results suggest extralegal factors such as ethnicity affect jurors’ decision-making, albeit in unexpected ways, which poses a threat to defendants’ due process protections and equal treatment.