Public judgement on sentencing: final results from the Tasmanian Jury Sentencing Study

15 Feb 2011

Portrayals of a punitive public are misleading, argues this study on sentencing.

This seminal study, which was funded by the Criminology Research Council, is the first reported study to use jurors in real trials to gauge public opinion about sentences and sentencing. Using jurors is a way of investigating the views of members of the public who are as fully informed of the facts of the case and the background of the offender as the judge. Based upon jurors’ responses from 138 trials, the study found that more than half of the jurors surveyed suggested a more lenient sentence than the trial judge imposed. Moreover, when informed of the sentence, 90 percent of jurors said that the judge’s sentence was (very or fairly) appropriate. In contrast, responses to abstract questions about sentencing levels mirrored the results of representative surveys. The results of the study also suggest that providing information to jurors about crime and sentencing may be helpful in addressing misconceptions in these areas.

Replication of this study may be of assistance to policymakers and judges who wish to know what informed members of the public think about sentencing. Portrayals of a punitive public are misleading and calls for harsher punishment largely uninformed.

Authored by Kate Warner, Julia Davis, Maggie Walter, Rebecca Bradfield and Rachel Vermey.

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