Grad Student Presents on Pre-Trial Publicity at Scholars Forum

Posted on 4/18/2018 1:59:08 PM

Kassandra ScioliAccording to research by graduate student Kassandra Scioli, pre-trial publicity in newspapers and on TV can taint the jury pool before a case can even go to trial.

At the 13th annual Graduate Scholars Forum on April 4 at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex, Scioli, who is seeking her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology, gave a presentation titled “Looking Good: An Examination of how the Valence of News Photographs Affects Jurors.”

Scioli received a graduate Dean’s Award for Excellence from the College of Natural Science and Mathematics for her presentation.

To back up her research, Scioli pointed out concerning media biases demonstrated in recently publicized police shootings, where in many cases victims were shown in a negative light while the photos depicting the suspects were positive. She used the example of a 2015 case where a police officer in Ohio, Ray Tensing, shot and killed an unarmed African American man, Samuel DuBose. Photographs of DuBose and Tensing were shown in the news. Whereas the photo of DuBose was a recent mugshot, the one of Tensing was his professional headshot in uniform.

Scioli also discussed a hashtag that has been used on social media—#iftheygunnedmedown—where people post side-by-side photos of themselves, one positive picture and the other negative. “People are noticing this media bias. They’re asking which picture the media would choose if they were a victim of violence,” she said.

Scioli said research has shown there are two kinds of pretrial publicity: positive, which favors the defendant and is anti-victim; and negative, which favors the prosecution. She explained that exposure to this pretrial publicity can cause people to prematurely form an opinion about a case.

“Then [jurors] remember information that fits that preconception," she said. "This ultimately influences what verdicts they render because they’re usually in line with their preconceptions.”

Scioli said that news photos might provide context that affects jurors’ perceptions and later verdicts. By showing negative photos in the news, like the unflattering shot of DuBose, people could form opinions beforehand that affect their decisions at trial. In that case, Tensing was tried twice, and both trials ended in mistrials before the charges were eventually dismissed.

To delve further into this topic, Scioli, along with her advisor, Dr. Jennifer Perillo, is conducting research to study the impact of news photographs on jurors’ memories, defendant and victim perceptions, and verdict decisions. Scioli is still in the process of collecting data. She said preliminary findings do support the problematic influence of news photos, however.

“Simply presenting a positive or negative image of someone changes how a juror processes information,” she said. “So photographic pre-trial publicity may impact individuals’ ability receive a fair trial.”