Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Variables Influencing the Impact of Exonerations on Victims' Families
Bernhard, Paula A.
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When exonerations occur, crime victims’ family members often remain unconvinced of an exoneree’s innocence. Using scenarios, reactions to exonerations were examined, comparing victims’ family members to their neighbors and manipulating the evidence that led to the exoneration and whether or not the true perpetrator of the crime was apprehended. The persuasive quality of the exoneration evidence mattered— DNA evidence and apprehension of the actual perpetrator were both influential—but across the board, family members continued to judge exonerees to be guiltier than neighbors did. Victim’s families were particularly likely to doubt an exoneree’s innocence when DNA evidence was not involved. Individual differences moderated some of these effects; belief in a just world was associated with ratings of innocence, certainty toward innocence, believability of evidence, and positive and negative emotions, whereas individuals high in intellectual humility were more likely to reexamine evidence.