Dr. Kayleen Islam-Zwart
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Given the impact pregnancy has in other areas of life it makes sense that when a woman is brought into the criminal justice system pregnancy will play a role in how others perceive her. While research exists on the implications of pregnancy on incarceration, there is a gap regarding the trial phase and the effects of pregnancy on the adjudication process.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether pregnancy status impacts jury perception of female defendants. It was hypothesized that a pregnant defendant would evoke sympathy in a trial situation and consequently a pregnant woman would be judged less harshly by a juror than a non-pregnant woman when committing similar crimes.
Participants were an anticipated 200 undergraduate students from a regional university in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Data collection finished in Winter quarter 375 males and females have completed the study to date. Participants signed up for the study through the University Research Site and completed the study online through Survey Monkey. There were two independent variables (male vs. female) and (pregnant vs. not pregnant).
Participants completed a general demographic survey as well as the Attitudes Towards Jury Service Questionnaire, and the Marlow Crowne Social Desirability Scale, (MC-SD; Crowne & Marlow, 1960). Additionally, six scenarios, created by the primary author, with women committing crimes of varying degrees of seriousness. Scenarios included the first name and age of the woman, pregnancy status, and crime she committed. Participants each read six scenarios followed by questions regarding each scenario. Participants were asked to make decisions regarding guilt. Perception of guilt and severity of sentence served as dependent variables.
Research regarding the role pregnancy plays in a trial the judicial system is important to understanding the potential biases present for women in the criminal justice system and ensuring a fair trail process. By understanding how pregnancy status can affect a juror’s perception of women on trial jurors can be chosen with these biases in mind. This can also be helpful in simply educating jurors and jury selection committees of the potential for these biases in the trial phase.
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