Unreasonable doubts? Exploring predictors of mock-juror verdicts in sexual assault trials

Prof Anne Cossins1, Prof. Jane Goodman-Delahunty2, Ms Thea Gumbert1

1University of NSW, , Australia, 2University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia

Sexual assault cases present unique challenges for jury trials, with lower conviction rates being observed in both real and simulated sexual offence trials than for other categories of serious crime. Issues impacting conviction rates include the prevalence of “rape myths” in the lay population, misconceptions about the type, availability and conclusiveness of evidence at trial, and difficulties for jurors in applying the “beyond reasonable doubt” (BRD) standard in the face of ambiguous evidence. Results are presented from two jury simulation studies examining predictors of verdicts, and perceptions of evidence in a sexual assault case. Quantitative analyses showed some significant attitudinal predictors of trial outcomes including ambivalent sexism and misconceptions about the legal system, while evidentiary factors including the presence or absence of injury to the complainant showed significant relationships with mock-jurors’ ratings of her believability and reliability as a witness. Thematic analyses suggested that while jurors were strongly motivated to make just and correct decisions, they were prone to rely on both rape myths and legal misconceptions in support of their decisions, and had difficulty understanding and applying the BRD standard. Potential means to improve juror decision-making in sexual offence trials are discussed.”


Thea is a practising psychologist with diverse experience in clinical, forensic, and disability settings in the private and public sectors. She specialises in forensic mental health and risk assessments, and frequently acts as an expert witness in criminal trials. She holds a Masters in forensic psychology and is currently a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales and Charles Sturt University. Her research interests include sexual offences in the justice system, and juror evaluations of evidence in criminal trials

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