Perceptions of Gangs and Their Effect on the Legal System

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Pecoulas, Katherine A.
Gangs; Legal System; Stereotypes; Anti-gang legislation; female gangs; Criminology and Criminal Justice; Law; Psychology
thesis / dissertation description
Several studies have examined the effect of gang affiliation on jury decision-making. However, none of such studies have examined how jurors perceive female gang members in the legal system, and how such perceptions may differ based on the geographic location of jurors. In the proposed study, jury-eligible participants from Chicago or Los Angeles will read a vignette about a gang member defendant, whose race and gender will vary. After reading the vignette, participants will be asked about the defendant’s guilt, sentence length, verdict confidence, aggression, and their familiarity with gang laws. It is hypothesized that while male gang members will be perceived as guiltier than females, they will receive shorter sentences. Additionally, while racial minority gang members will be perceived as guiltier, they will receive shorter sentences. Lastly, given the differing racial compositions of Chicago and Los Angeles, the combined effect of race and location will be examined on jury decision-making. These results may help in further understanding how certain types of gangs are perceived, and how these perceptions shape the legal outcomes of gang members.