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Effects of Trial Venue and Pretrial Bias on the Evaluation of Juvenile Defendants

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Review Volume: 34 Issue: 2 Dated: June 2009 Pages: 210-225
Connie M. Tang; Narina Nunez; Martin Bourgeois
Date Published
June 2009
16 pages
Two studies examined how the public views juveniles tried as adults compared to juveniles tried in the juvenile court or adult defendants, and determined whether all participants evaluated juveniles tried as adults the same way.
The findings of the two studies were in agreement that given only information about defendant age and trial venue, people formed negative impressions of juveniles waived to adult court and were likely to assume the charged crime was serious and the defendant was dangerous and an habitual offender. In both studies, participants also rated juveniles tried as adults as being charged with more serious crimes and being more dangerous than juveniles tried in the juvenile court or adult defendants. Study participants who were biased toward the prosecution evaluated juvenile defendants more harshly than defense-biased participants. Defense-biased defendants tended to view juveniles as "wayward youth;" and prosecution-biased participants tended to view juveniles, particularly those waived to adult court, as "superpredators." The authors advise that although this research makes a useful contribution to the literature, the conclusions are tentative due to a number of study limitations. The most apparent limitation concerns ecological validity. Participants were not presented with complex trial scenarios that are likely to confront jurors. In the first study, 144 undergraduate students from a public university in a Rocky Mountain region were asked to rate crime seriousness, defendant dangerousness, and defendant's risk for habitual offending after being given only the following information on three types of defendants: a 16-year-old juvenile being tried as an adult, a 16-year-old juvenile being tried in juvenile court, and a 19-year-old adult being tried in criminal court. The second study replicated the first study with a sample of community residents, adding a dependent variable, i.e., the "superpredator" versus the "wayward youth" stereotypes. 4 tables and 30 references