How Conflict Psychology Can Influence Judgement and Sentencing

Inter-group conflict—Montagues vs. Capulets, Sharks vs. Jets, Crips vs. Bloods—often culminates in episodes of unplanned, catastrophic violence. These cathartic but often gruesome incidents must then be interpreted after the fact by the stereotypically level-headed third parties called upon by the criminal justice system to prosecute, defend, and ultimately judge the perpetrators. These professionals’ understanding of inter-group psychology (and their ability to impress that understanding upon a jury) will influence the outcome of the legal proceedings, and ultimately the sentencing of those convicted (if indeed they are convicted).Depending upon the facts and circumstances surrounding a violent inter-group incident, and the jurisdiction in which it occurred, such episodes may be prosecuted as “hate crimes” —a new category of offenses worthy of the harshest possible legal sanctions. This is perhaps ironic, given the fact that the same fact pattern, analyzed through group conflict psychology, may minimize the individual liability of criminal defendants or, if a conviction is inevitable, potentially reduce their sentencing exposure.

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