First Advisor

Kathryn A. Farr

Term of Graduation

Winter 1998

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Sociology






Jurors -- United States, Crime and race -- United States, Defense (Criminal procedure) -- United States, Pregnant women -- Substance use -- United States, Substance abuse in pregnancy -- United States



Physical Description

1 online resource (177 pages)


Since the early 1980s fetal harm "caused" by women's illegal drug use during pregnancy has garnered public attention and legal scrutiny. Motivated by concerns over fetal health, the cost of caring for drug-addicted infants, and public support for get tough on crime policies, various states have employed statutes on child abuse, neglect or endangerment, delivering a controlled substance to a minor and contributing to the delinquency of a minor to criminally inculpate maternal drug users.

Utilizing a written hypothetical trial summary in which a woman was charged with child abuse for using cocaine while pregnant, this research explored the effects of defendant race and type of defense on juror judgments. Student respondents (N=610) recruited Portland State University and Clark College received one of four randomly assigned trial summaries: (1) White defendant, diminished capacity defense; (2) Black defendant, diminished capacity defense; (3) White defendant, feminist-legal defense and; (4) Black defendant feminist legal defense.

While the majority of respondents rendered a guilty verdict, female respondents, respondents between the ages of 16-22, and respondents from Clark College were more likely to convict the defendant of child abuse than their counterparts. Drug treatment was selected as part of the sentence by over four fifths of those who found the defendant guilty, followed by psychological counseling, and parenting classes. While the least common, jail or prison was still recommended by over one-third of respondents.

Though race of the defendant had no effect on jurors' verdicts, it did impact sentencing, judgments and general opinion statements. Males were more likely to recommend imprisonment when the defendant was Black, while females were more likely to recommend imprisonment when the defendant was White. Older males (31-61) and those from Clark College were more likely than their counterparts to strongly agree that Black women are more likely than White women to use cocaine during pregnancy.

The feminist-legal defense was more likely to result in acquittals than the diminished capacity defense. Respondents who rendered a guilty verdict often expressed suspicion of or outright disbelief either in the disease concept or that the defendant did all she could to obtain drug treatment.


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