Date of Award

January 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Roni Mayzer


This study looked at whether the sexual orientation of a witness has an effect on a potential juror's determination of the witness's credibility, and examined traits such as respondent gender and college major, that may predict high levels of sexual prejudice. The sample consisted of 379 undergraduate students at a medium sized, upper Midwestern university. Results did not reveal an overall link between witness credibility ratings and sexual orientation, with the gay male witness receiving the highest credibility rankings followed by the heterosexual male witness, heterosexual female witness, and lastly, the lesbian female witness. It does not appear that the sexual orientation of the witness alone had any influence on the juror verdicts or on the respondents' belief in the guilt of the defendant.

Lower credibility ratings of the witness were predicted by the witness's gender. Female witnesses were rated as significantly less credible than male witnesses. The lesbian female witness received lower credibility scores than did the heterosexual female witness.

Three variables emerged as predictive of high levels of sexual prejudice. Male respondents reported the highest levels of sexual prejudice against both gay men and lesbian women. An examination of the means of male respondents' scores suggests higher levels of prejudice against gay men. The second predictor of high levels of sexual prejudice was the respondent being a criminal justice or other, non-social science major. Respondents in both of these categories held significantly higher levels of sexual prejudice against gay men than do students of other social sciences. Finally, respondents who do not have gay friends and/or family members had higher levels of sexual prejudice than respondents who do have ties to the gay community.

Based upon the results obtained in this study, it does not appear that the sexual orientation of a witness who has no stake in the outcome of the case will have any bearing on the ultimate outcome of a case. However, certain demographics of the college students surveyed here hold high levels of sexual prejudice, with respondent gender, college major, and lack of ties to the gay community being predictive of high prejudice. Study strengths and weaknesses are discussed, as are implications for reducing sexual prejudice among college students, with an emphasis on criminal justice students.