Emotion, Proof and Prejudice: The Cognitive Science of Gruesome Photos and Victim Impact Statements

2014, Past Issues, Print, Volume 46 (2014) Issue 4 (Winter)
Susan A. Bandes & Jessica M. Salerno. The current framework for sorting the probative from the prejudicial considers emotion to be the hallmark of unfair prejudice. Emotions elicited by evidence are thought to “inflame” the jury and “cause them to abandon their mental processes.” This inaccurate view of emotion as the enemy of rationality is problematic for evidence law. We argue for a more sophisticated and nuanced view of emotion’s role in evaluating proof and prejudice. We use two types of evidence to illustrate our argument: gruesome photos and victim impact statements. As some scholars have noted, emotional responses to evidence are not necessarily prejudicial responses. But this observation captures only a small part of the problem with the current evidentiary framework. Emotions do not always lead to prejudice, but they can lead to prejudice in more complex and subtle ways…
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