Potential Factors Influencing Leniency toward Veterans who Commit Crimes

Graduation Year


Publication Date

Spring 2013


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Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs following a traumatic experience and has symptoms that can severely impair functioning. Military personnel are particularly likely to experience trauma, and thus are commonly diagnosed with PTSD. Importantly, because PTSD is correlated with expressions of anger and aggression, military veterans are at an increased risk of committing crimes upon returning from deployment. Although legal records have shown that veterans with PTSD are often charged with lighter crimes and/or given lighter sentences compared to people not diagnosed with PTSD, to date no psychological research has directly investigated if jurors truly are inclined to give veterans with PTSD lighter sentences than veterans without PTSD. It also remains unclear how various factors related to PTSD may influence jurors’ sentencing recommendations. The purpose of the present research was to compare judgments of guilt for veterans with PTSD to civilians and to investigate whether various factors lead to increased leniency from jurors. Participants read fictional court documents describing a crime and reported perceptions of guilt, responsibility, and feelings toward the defendant. Results indicated that the diagnosis of PTSD, timing of diagnosis, and type of combat experienced influenced various perceptions of the defendant and his sentencing. Future directions are discussed.



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