Old Enough to Know Better? Racial Biases, Perceived Age, and Young Defendants in Tennessee

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A defendant’s age can be an important determinant of judicial outcomes, but the perception of a defendant’s age can have implications for how these outcomes are determined. Research has suggested a connection between racial bias and age perception. This study sought to describe an age bias against African-Americans, and to connect this to jury sentencing outcomes. Undergraduate participants (N = 318) were recruited from university in the Appalachia region. First, participants estimated the ages of individuals in photographs. Analyses primarily focused on 18 and 19-year-old African-American and Caucasian males, but included a number of photographs from older males and females. Then, participants suggested a prison sentence in a mock jury sentencing task. African-Americans were estimated to be older than Caucasians by nearly four years (d = 1.75). This difference was present when controlling for exposure to African Americans, but with a negligible effect (d = 0.17). A modest increase (0.5 years, d = 0.32) was found in the sentence lengths assigned to African-American defendants. Discrepancies between age estimates and Page 112 2015 Appalachian Student Research Forum sentence lengths were not correlated. However logistic regression analyses found that age estimates of African-Americans were predictive of sentences exceeding state guidelines for this group, and the difference in age estimates between African-Americans and Caucasians was predictive of excessive sentences for both groups. While these regressions produced statistically significant (p < 0.05), the effect sizes of these regressions were negligible (d < 0.20). These findings suggest age bias is present and may have implications for juveniles and young adults in criminal proceedings.


Johnson City, TN

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