Loyola University Maryland

Emerging Scholars

Kristyn Kamke, Marianna E. Carlucci, Ph.D.

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When Gender Doesn't Match the Crime: Jury Bias in Cases of Insanity

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After John Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, the American public began to distrust the insanity defense (Hans & Slater, 1983). Since then, the insanity defense has been assumed to give criminals a loophole to avoid punishment (Hans & Slater, 1983; Perlin, 1996). Given the public’s negative attitudes about the insanity defense, it appears that many court decisions in insanity cases are influenced by extra-legal factors, those that are not case evidence but still contribute to juror decision-making (Finkel, 1989; Gerbasi, Zuckerman, & Reis, 1977; Perlin, 1996; Roberts & Golding, 1991). Many extra-legal factors (e.g., defendant attractiveness, defendant ethnicity, defendant gender) have been investigated in relation to jury decision-making, but less attention has focused on how extra-legal factors affect decision-making in insanity defense cases (Abwender & Hough, 2001; Nagel & Johnson, 1994). It appears that defendant gender may influence jury decisions in insanity cases (Breheney, Groscup, & Galietta, 2007). In general, women tend to receive less severe sentences in court proceedings even when found guilty of the same crime as a male counterpart; female defendants are also more likely to successfully plead to a lesser crime than men are (Nagel & Johnson, 1994).  There is also some evidence that women are less likely to be found guilty of crimes than their male counterparts (Auerhahn, 2007; Pozzulo, Dempsey, Maeder, & Allen, 2009). For cases of insanity, it is less clear how defendant gender relates to assessments of guilt and length of sentence (Breheney et al., 2007). It may be that jurors hold stereotypical views of what crimes committed by each gender should look like and are less accepting of defendants committing gender-atypical crimes. When men commit traditionally female crimes like filicide they receive harsher sentences than their female counterparts and are more likely to be found guilty (Wiest & Duffy, 2013). There is a lack of research concerning how women are treated when committing a traditionally male crime (e.g., homicide of a stranger); however, considering that women, in general, receive harsher sentences when utilizing traditionally male weapons (e.g., gun), there is reason to believe they would receive harsher sentences and verdicts when committing typically male crimes (Dunn, Cowan, & Downs, 2006). It would be interesting to see how the defendant gender, defendant’s relationship to victim, and method of killing relate to judgments of insanity. My study will have approximately 280 participants randomly assigned to one of eight conditions. Each group will read a vignette describing a murder case in which defendant gender (female, male), relationship to victim (parent, stranger), and method of killing (smothering, gun) will be manipulated. Participants will be given a definition of legal insanity and asked to give a verdict of guilty, not guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity. It is expected that when the defendant murders a gender-typical victim and uses gender-typical means, the defendant will be more often found not guilty by reason of insanity.