The Effect of the Brain Disease Model of Addiction on Juror Perceptions of Culpability

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The role of the brain in drug and alcohol abuse has become an increasingly studied variable in the development of addiction. Regardless of the extensive research base supporting the perspective of addiction as a chronic relapsing disease of the brain, practitioners, the general public, and the criminal justice system alike only display partial support for this model. Research on endorsement of the brain disease model (BDM) of addiction is variable; however, several studies have reflected complete or partial participant acceptance of the BDM. Simultaneously, these same participants lack empathetic responses towards substance using individuals, often maintaining the belief addiction is a decision. Of particular interest is the effect this differentiation of the BDM and empathy has on perceptions of criminal culpability. The present study sought to examine the effect that expert testimony provided on the BDM had on assigned sentence lengths by mock jury members. Participants randomly assigned to an experimental group read a mock court transcript, either with expert testimony on the BDM or without, and then assigned a sentence length for the offender, ranging from six months to two years. It was hypothesized that the results would reflect a mitigating effect of the BDM in the condition in which it is provided on sentencing lengths, resulting in significantly shorter sentences for mock jurors exposed to the expert testimony. Results indicated that there was no significant difference between control and experimental groups, suggesting that mock jurors do not take contextual information into consideration when sentencing an offender on trial for drug-related crime.

Substance abuse, Jury decision making, Brain disease model of addiction