The impact of a defendant not testifying in a child sexual assault case

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The present study examined the influence of the presence or absence of a defendant's testimony and the strength of the prosecution's evidence on mock juror perceptions of a defendant in a child sexual assault case. Community members (N = 311, 54.3% female) read a summary of a fictional trial in which a defendant allegedly sexually assaulted a child. The prosecution presented evidence from a detective in a weak case or a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) in a strong case, and defendants either testified or did not testify. When the defendant did not testify, participants were either instructed to not allow the lack of testimony to affect their decision or were not given instructions about the defendant's testimony. Judge's instruction did not affect verdict, and the two no- testimony conditions were collapsed. Participants were significantly more likely to render guilty verdicts when there was strong evidence and when the defendant did not testify. Anger toward the defendant mediated the relationship between the defendant's lack of testimony and guilty verdicts. When the defendant did not testify and jurors rendered guilty verdicts, cognitive network representations indicated that the defend-ant's lack of testimony was central to the jurors' perceptions of the case.

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