Criminal Stereotypes of Muslim and Arab Americans and the Impact on Evaluations of Ambiguous Criminal Evidence

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In the US legal system, jurors may make good-faith efforts to construe and apply facts and law, but extralegal considerations are difficult to avoid, and under some circumstances lay constructions of liability and criminality may be vulnerable to bias. We explore whether stereotype effects in juries’ decision-making are sensitive to the stringency of the burden of persuasion. This article represents an important addition to the growing field of experimental jurisprudence and empirical legal studies, as it uses a novel computational method to visualize a stereotype of a specific criminal subtype. More importantly, it tests the intersection of the stereotype with legal conclusions for different standards of proof. For the less-stringent criminal standard— probable cause, which typically is used in a grand-jury setting—the stereotype mattered to the outcome, with the clear implication that lax standards may leave room for jurors to improperly consider extralegal factors like race and ethnicity.

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