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Behav Sci Law. 2007;25(4):561-71.

The role of death qualification and need for cognition in venirepersons' evaluations of expert scientific testimony in capital trials.

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  • 1University of South Florida-Sarasota, Department of Psychology, 5700 North Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34243, USA.


The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of death qualification in venirepersons' evaluations of expert scientific testimony in capital trials. 200 venirepersons from the 12th Judicial Circuit in Bradenton, FL completed a booklet that contained the following: one question that measured their attitudes toward the death penalty; one question that categorized their death-qualification status; the Need for Cognition (NFC) scale (Cacioppo, Petty & Kao, 1984); a summary of the guilt phase of a capital case (which included the cross-examination of the state's expert witness); verdict preference; five questions concerning participants' evaluations of the expert's testimony; the penalty phase of a capital case; sentence preference; and standard demographic questions. Results indicated that death-qualified venirepersons were more likely to demonstrate a low need for cognition and view ambiguous expert scientific testimony as valid, important in their decision-making processes, unbiased, and of high quality. Finally, death-qualified participants were more conviction- and death- prone than their excludable counterparts. Surprisingly, death-qualified and excludable jurors did not differ with respect to whether or not they felt that the expert followed correct procedures. Legal implications and applications are discussed.

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