Jurors’ judgements of an autistic defendant are influenced by awareness of autism, knowledge of psychological conditions and trait-empathy

Tiegan Blackhurst , Calum Hartley, Polly Turner, Warmelink Lara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study aims to investigate whether awareness of an ASD diagnostic label, knowledge of psychological conditions, and trait-empathy influence mock-jurors’ judgements of an autistic defendant. Some autistic adults have an increased risk of acting illegally and standing trial as a defendant because of their behavioural and cognitive characteristics. In court, they may display behaviours stereotypically perceived by jurors as indicators of guilt (e.g. averted gaze), potentially resulting in negative judgements. However, if autistic defendants disclose their condition, this may positively influence jurors’ judgements by offering an alternative explanation for their behaviour. This effect may be stronger in jurors who are highly knowledgeable about psychological conditions and empathic.

Non-autistic participants (N = 328; M age = 28.21) read a scenario about a defendant’s crime and courtroom behaviour before judging their character and reporting how empathic they felt towards the defendant. Participants were then informed that the defendant was autistic and provided with information about autism before re-evaluating the defendant. Participants’ empathy and knowledge of psychological conditions, including autism, were measured.

Participants judged the defendant to be more honest and less blameworthy post-label. Trait empathy was positively associated with honesty ratings and higher levels of self-reported empathy. Overall knowledge was negatively associated with ratings for defendant blameworthiness and likeability. Overall, the findings suggest that autistic defendants may benefit from disclosing their diagnosis as this may result in more favourable juror judgements.

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this study is the first to consider how jurors’ overall knowledge of psychological conditions and trait-empathy may influence judgements of an autistic defendant.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-101
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services
Issue number3/4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2022


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