In Brief

Mock jurors are more likely to recommend the death penalty in homicides that are hate crimes against gay men than they are in other types of homicides, according to research presented at APA's 2006 Annual Convention. Jurors are also more prone to blame heterosexual victims of homicides, holding them more responsible regardless of the homicide type.

What's more, heterosexual jurors are more likely than lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) jurors to recommend the death penalty in hate crimes against gay men,found lead researcher Robert J. Cramer, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Alabama, whose co-authors include Jonathon J. Mohr, PhD, of George Mason University, and Stanley L. Brodsky, PhD, and Emily E. Wakeman, also of Alabama.

In the study, 445 undergraduate mock jurors filled out questionnaires assessing characteristics such as sexual orientation and attitudes towar LGB people. They also deliberated on four vignettes that describe a murder.

One was a hate crime with a gay male victim, another was a homicide with a victim of undisclosed sexual orientation, and the other two involved no hate motive and a gay male and a heterosexual male victim, respectively.

Respondents who identified themselves as heterosexual and least biased against LGB people were most likely to recommend the death penalty in the hate crime vignette.

Those most biased against LGB people still tended to recommend the death penalty for the hate crime, even though they blamed gay victims more than other respondents did. LBG respondents were least likely to recommend the death penalty or blame the victim across all conditions, perhaps because the identify more with victims of any type, noted Cramer.

Interestingly, mock jurors who ranked low on right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) tended to recommend the death penalty for the hate crime perpetrator.

The explanation? Possibly that they're "less prejudicial than their high RWA counterparts, and in turn, favor justice for victims of prejudice-based crimes," Cramer speculated.

As for heterosexuals' more punitive recommendations, Cramer said they likely assumed that the hate crime defendant was a fellow heterosexual, and therefore a "black sheep" from whom they wanted to distance themselves.

"Heterosexual jurors may have punished unlikablein-group members more harshly," he said.

This extends previous research indicating a "contrast effect" in which jurors impose stricter penalties on perpetrators of the same race or background as themselves. Cramer plans to test for the effect in a future study that clearly identifies the hate crime defendant as heterosexual.

--B. Murray Law