How mock jurors’ cognitive processing and defendants’ immigrant status and ethnicity relate to decisions in capital trials

Matthew P. West, Emily F. Wood, Monica K. Miller, Brian H. Bornstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objectives: This study examined how defendants’ immigrant status and ethnicity interact with evidence strength and mock jurors’ cognitive processing traits to influence decisions in a capital trial. Methods: A sample of jury-eligible participants acted as mock jurors and read a trial summary in which defendant immigrant status, defendant ethnicity, and evidence strength were experimentally manipulated. They then weighed aggravators relative to mitigators, recommended a sentence, and completed measures of rational and experiential processing. Logistic regression was used to test predicted interactions. Results: Mock jurors weighed aggravators over mitigators when the defendant was a Latino citizen and when the defendant was an undocumented immigrant. There were no interactions on sentencing decisions. Evidence strength and experiential processing were positively related to rendering a death sentence. Conclusions: A defendant’s immigrant status and ethnicity might indirectly lead to punitive decisions in capital cases because they influence how jurors weigh aggravators and mitigators.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Experimental Criminology
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2020



  • Cognitive processing
  • Death penalty
  • Ethnicity
  • Immigrant status
  • Juror decision-making
  • Prejudice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law

Cite this