Emotionally Objective: Federal Rule of Evidence 403 and Emotions Influencing Jury Decision Making

“Emotionally Objective: Federal Rule of Evidence 403 and Emotions Influencing Jury Decision Making,” 7 Geo. Undergraduate L. Rev. 31 (2021).


The only individual right inscribed in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights is the right to a trial by jury. By vesting fact-finding in a jury of one’s peers, the American legal system ensures that the government must gain the approval of its citizens before depriving an individual of his or her liberty. However, the legal system’s Framers did not relinquish all power to jurors; in fact, they expressed an inherent distrust of them. After years of Supreme Court drafting, Congress codified the Federal Rules of Evidence (FRE) in 1975. The rule that most illustrates a distrust of juries is FRE 403, which holds that relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of unfair prejudice. In other words, evidence that has a danger to unfairly inflame the passions of the jury by being overly emotional is blocked from their review. The following experiment tested whether Rule 403 is necessary: whether the average person, when exposed to evidence that would otherwise be excluded under this rule, truly would be overcome by emotion, so much so that it causes him or her to reverse his or her verdict. By comparing emotionally neutral evidence with evidence designed to induce discrete emotions, this experiment suggests that a juror’s emotions play a larger role than his or her demographics or previous experiences in influencing his or her judgement. Of the emotions elicited, sympathy for the defendant played the most significant role, followed by anger, fear, and sadness.

Link: page 31 https://issuu.com/guulr1789/docs/guulr_vii_spring_2021