Jury, “just forget it”

In regards to inadmissible evidence, can a jury truly “just forget it” and disregard statements or evidence? Inadmissible evidence in court is evidence that cannot be used because it is invalid. When evidence is ruled, inadmissible, or comments are asked to be disregarded, how can the jury completely forget it, and have it not affect the final verdicts? Research say, most likely not.

Backfire effect

First, the “backfire effect” is when evidence is asked to be disregarded, but then it actually becomes more influential on verdicts. A study done by the Journal of Law and Human Behavior focuses on the influence of inadmissible evidence and jury verdicts. “Firing back at the backfire effect: The influence of mortality salience and nullification beliefs on reactions to inadmissible evidence” looks into both dispositional and situational factors that contribute to “the backfire effect”.

The results of this study show that participants who scored high on a measure of nullification beliefs exhibited the backfire effect. This means that participants who believed in their own views of justice rather than that written law were more prone to the backfire effect (Cook et al., 2004).


The use of inadmissible evidence in a court case can have dangerous consequences. In cases involving high crimes such as murder, guilty verdict rates are higher with jurors asked to dismiss evidence in comparison to never hearing the evidence in the first place (Steblay et al. 2006). An innocent person can be sent to jail for a crime they didn’t commit. This is a critical and dangerous issue than needs to be addressed in the justice system.

How do we stop the “backfire”?

Is the solution merely finding a better way to have a jury erase something from their minds? No. Not in reality. However, there may be a simple solution. The judge at the beginning of the trial can mention that they may face evidence that will be inadmissible but won’t draw as much attention causes a backfire effect (Kassin & Sommers, 1997). Also, another possibility is to avoid telling the jury to dismiss evidence altogether (Cook et al., 2004). Further research is needed to look into this issue and the number of convictions that are influenced by the hopes of the jury being able to “just forget it”.



Cook, A., Arndt, J., & Lieberman, J. D. (2004). Firing back at the backfire effect: The influence of mortality salience and nullification beliefs on reactions to inadmissible evidence.Law and Human Behavior, 28(4), 389-410. doi:10.1023/B:LAHU.0000039332.21386.f4

Steblay, N., Hosch, H. M., Culhane, S. E., & McWethy, A. (2006). The impact on juror verdicts of judicial instruction to disregard inadmissible evidence: A meta-analysis. Law and Human Behavior, 30(4), 469-492. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1007/s10979-006-9039-7

Kassin, S. M., & Sommers, S. R. (1997). Inadmissible Testimony, Instructions to Disregard, and the Jury: Substantive Versus Procedural Considerations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(10), 1046–1054. https://doi.org/10.1177/01461672972310005

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