The impact of pre-recorded video and closed circuit television testimony by adult sexual assault complainants on jury decision-making: an experimental study


This report presents the findings from a mock sexual assault jury trial research project conducted on behalf of the New South Wales Attorney General's Department in 2005. The project aimed to investigate whether the impact of adult sexual assault complainant testimony on juror perceptions and decisions differs if presented via closed circuit television (CCTV), pre-recorded videotape or face-to-face in the courtroom. The study also investigated the impact of emotional versus neutral complainant testimony. Eighteen mock trials were held in a mock courtroom in which 210 members of the public participated as jurors. After watching the trial but before jury deliberation, jurors completed individual questionnaires which investigated their perceptions of complainant credibility, empathy with the complainant, overall impression of the complainant, empathy with the accused, overall impression of the accused and personal beliefs about guilt of the accused. After jury deliberation, jurors completed a questionnaire which asked again about their beliefs about guilt of the accused. Jurors also completed a questionnaire about their attitudes toward rape victims in general. The report outlines the methodology used, the key findings, issues arising from juror feedback and the difficulties encountered by jurors in trying to reach unanimous verdicts. The study finds, overall, that immediately following the trial but before jury deliberation, mode of presentation of testimony (face-to-face, CCTV or pre-recorded videotape) did not impact differentially on juror perceptions of the complainant or the accused, or guilt of the accused. The degree to which the complainant was upset while giving her testimony (emotional) or calm (neutral) was also not found to impact in any consistent pattern on juror perceptions or decisions. One of the key insights obtained during this study was the high degree to which many jurors believed many of the "myths" which surround rape in general. Acceptance of these myths means that many jurors have strong expectations about how a "real" victim would behave before, during and after an alleged sexual assault. These expectations impact on their perceptions of the complainant's credibility. Other key issues were the difficulty juries experienced in defining reasonable doubt, and the difficulty of understanding what was meant by "consent".