Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Public sentencing preferences often determine the sentencing statutes created by legislators. Extracting public opinion is typically done through mass public opinion polls; however, research has found that these polls often produce misleading findings. In order to accurately dissect the various layers of laypersons' sentencing choices, a victim impact statement (VIS) and a statement of offender remorse were manipulated within a crime scenario depicting moderately severe crimes. A total of 215 participants were randomly assigned to one of the 16 conditions in this 2 (crime type: residential burglary or unarmed robbery) x 2 (VIS: absence or presence) x 2 (offender remorse statement: partial or full apology) x 2 (counterbalance: VIS first or remorse statement first). As expected, the VIS caused participants to assign harsher sentences whereas the offender remorse statement caused more lenient sentences. The Theory of Attribution (Heider 1958; Kelley, 1967; Weiner, 1985) was applied to the current research, but attributions did not explain why the VIS or remorse affected sentencing harshness. The VIS statement did not, however, influence participants' attribution of the criminal behavior to internal characteristics (i.e. greed or laziness) nor did the remorse statement have a significant effect on the perception of external reasons (i.e. lack of jobs) as the cause for the offender's behavior. Respondents who attributed the crime to a character flaw, however, gave harsher sentences. As hypothesized, participants in the VIS present conditions were significantly more likely to use

retributive sentencing goals while determining a sentence for the offender whereas those in the full remorse statement conditions were significantly more likely to decide on a sentence with restorative justice goals. These hypotheses, however, were only partially supported because the VIS did not significantly influence restorative sentencing goals and the remorse statement did not influence the retributive sentencing goals. Though unexpected, if respondents inferred that the victim overreacted to the crime, they were significantly more likely to discount the VIS statement and to infer less emotional harm and recommend a more lenient sentence. Inferences about the victim's overreaction also were related to participants' inferences that the offender was less to blame, less sympathy for the victim, and perceptions that the crime was less serious.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.