HomeLatest News‘Facial features play key role in death penalty decisions’

‘Facial features play key role in death penalty decisions’

COLUMBIA: A recent study from Columbia University suggests that the appearance of defendants influences whether they receive the death penalty or life imprisonment, challenging the notion of unbiased jury decisions.

Researchers exposed a mock jury to hundreds of mugshots of Florida inmates convicted of murder, revealing that specific facial features, such as downturned lips and heavy eyebrows, were associated with a higher likelihood of receiving the death penalty.

Lead author Jon Freeman emphasised the potential impact of these findings on combating biases rooted in facial stereotypes. The study involved 1,400 volunteer participants who assessed mugshots of 400 white male inmates convicted of homicide.

Participants, before any bias training, overwhelmingly deemed 95 per cent of those sentenced to death as ‘untrustworthy’ based on facial features alone.

The study suggests the need to incorporate facial bias awareness training into the juror process to mitigate unconscious reactions that can influence decision-making.

The researchers successfully implemented an intervention process that raised awareness, eliminated bias, and eradicated unconscious reactions.

While the number of death penalties has declined over the last two decades, the study sheds light on the persisting challenges in ensuring unbiased sentencing.

Additional studies are underway to test the intervention process with racially and gender-diverse faces, further exploring the potential impact on death penalty decisions.

The Death Penalty Information Center reports a decline in annual death penalties, with 2,331 people on death row as of January 2023, illustrating the ongoing disparities in the criminal justice system. Reuters

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