The effects of defendant and juror language use on sentencing recommendations

Victoria Christine Estrada, University of Texas at El Paso


Spanish-language testimony is an extra-legal variable not widely studied in the legal psychology field. More emphasis has been placed on the translation of the testimony as well as accent attitudes. The current study extended research conducted by Stephan and Stephan (1986) to investigate the impact of Spanish-speaking defendants and mock-juror's language use and proficiency on sentencing recommendations. Two hundred and seventy-seven participants from the University of Texas at El Paso read a case vignette of a first-degree aggravated assault and asked were asked to provide sentence recommendations for the defendant. The defendant's testimony was presented in English or Spanish with an English translation, and mock jurors were asked items to assess their English and Spanish language use and proficiency. It was hypothesized that (1) Spanish-speaking defendants would receive harsher sentences, (2) mock jurors high in Spanish proficiency would be more lenient overall, and (3) Spanish-speaking defendants would receive more lenient sentences as Spanish use and proficiency of the participant increased. The results found no significant effects for defendant language, mock-juror language use, or the interaction of the two. However, a significant interaction of mock-juror Spanish proficiency and defendant language was found. Contrary to what had been predicted, it was found that mock jurors high in Spanish proficiency gave more lenient sentence recommendations to English-speaking defendants. As an explanation for this unexpected finding, I hypothesize that Spanish-speaking defendants are experiencing the black-sheep effect (Marques, Yzerbyt, & Leyens, 1988), where individuals are more punitive toward in-group members to protect the positive identity of the group. This speculation should be confirmed through replication in future studies.

Subject Area

Law|Social psychology|Communication|Legal Studies|Criminology|Sociolinguistics|Hispanic American studies

Recommended Citation

Estrada, Victoria Christine, "The effects of defendant and juror language use on sentencing recommendations" (2012). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1518198.