Factors influencing public perceptions of sentencing in regional North Queensland and how these perceptions compare to current legal guidelines

Finch, Pauline Jean (2006) Factors influencing public perceptions of sentencing in regional North Queensland and how these perceptions compare to current legal guidelines. Professional Doctorate (Research) thesis, James Cook University.

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The current study utilised a within groups design to explore whether a disparity exists between society’s beliefs about sentencing and the guidelines that are present within our legal system and whether specific extra-legal variables relating to participants and the victim within a crime scenario significantly influence the sentencing process. Participant characteristics were explored in order to determine whether the age, gender, victim history and beliefs (locus of control beliefs (LOCB) and just world beliefs (JWB) have the potential to significantly impact upon the sentencing recommendations that individuals feel are appropriate for offenders. Sentencing recommendations made by participants were also compared to the sentencing guidelines within the Queensland legal system. Finally the project aimed to determine whether providing victim information within a specific crime scenario would significantly impact on the sentencing recommendations of participants.

The current research utilised the offence of manslaughter as the crime of interest because previous research has identified this crime as being of sufficient severity to elicit variability within sentencing recommendations (Rachlinski & Jourden, 2003). The manslaughter offence was presented within a scenario as a component of a questionnaire. Within the questionnaire participants were also required to provide demographic information and complete two self-report assessments, Rubin and Peplau’s (1975) Just World Belief Scale and Rotter’s (1966) Locus of Control Scale.

The research findings revealed that participants sentenced differently across the crime definitions, and their recommended sentence lengths were significantly longer than those currently utilised within the Queensland legal system. The results also revealed that contrary to the research hypothesis participant characteristics including age, gender, victim history and beliefs did not significantly impact on sentencing recommendations. It was further hypothesis that victim characteristics would have a significant impact on sentencing recommendations however the results failed to achieve significance. Finally the results found that sentence lengths recommended did not significantly vary from the crime definition to the crime scenario as predicted.

This project explores the discrepancy between public opinion and legal guidelines with regard to sentencing, with the results indicating that the public may not be as influenced by extra-legal variables as often suggested. The findings from this study will hopefully contribute to discussion and decisions regarding the role of jurors in the sentencing process with the overall aim being to improving sentencing consistency within the courts.

In order to analyse the data collected the following analyses were completed. The analysis included paired t-tests to compare sentencing recommendations across the ten crime definitions, a MANCOVA analysis to asses whether the sentences recommended significantly differed across the ten crime definitions with regard to the extra-legal variables, ten one-sample t-tests were conducted to compare the average sentencing recommendations of participants to the courts average sentences. A 5 x 2 ANCOVA was completed to analysis the interaction between sentence lengths recommended and participant and victim variables, and finally three t-tests were completed to determine whether there was a significant difference in sentencing recommendations for the crime definition as compared to the crime scenarios, and to determine whether there was any significant differences in sentencing recommendations for the crime scenario in relation to participant gender and participant victim history.

Item ID: 2075
Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate (Research))
Keywords: sentencing, forensic psychology, processes, guidelines, public perceptions, public opinion, beliefs, bias, recommendations, legal system, legal process, criminal justice system, criminology, Queensland, jurors, juries, victims, defendants, gender, age, socio-economic status
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2009 02:32
FoR Codes: 18 LAW AND LEGAL STUDIES > 1801 Law > 180120 Legal Institutions (incl Courts and Justice Systems) @ 0%
17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1701 Psychology > 170113 Social and Community Psychology @ 0%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1602 Criminology @ 0%
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