University of Florida Homepage

Sociology and Criminology & Law

Elise Costa


Degrees Earned:

  • May 2014       M.A in Criminology, Law & Society- University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)
  • May 2012       B.A. in Criminology, Law & Society- University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)


  • Biosocial criminology
  • Life-course criminology
  • Criminological Theory
  • Legal Processes
  •  Emergent gangs

Teaching Interests

  • Biosocial Criminology
  •  Pre-Law Driven Coursework
  • Criminological Theory
  • Research Methods
  • Life-course Criminology

Dissertation title: 

  • From Genes to Jurors: A Randomized Experiment to Examine the Effects of Genomic Evidence on Sentencing Decisions for Black and White Defendants

Dissertation Abstract:

 Conviction and sentencing decisions are instrumental components of the American criminal justice system and for that reason it is important to understand how genetic testing and genomic evidence may influence those decisions, particularly when genomic evidence is used in criminal cases of defendants from racial minority groups. Young, Black, males are among the most harshly sentenced in the American judicial system. Additionally, studies show that jurors exhibit racial biases when the race of the defendant is manipulated. However, it is largely unknown how genomic evidence – a new type of evidence emerging in courtrooms regarding a defendant’s genetic predisposition to violence may contribute to the differential treatment of Blacks in the American judicial system. The proposed study aims to answer the following questions by using a randomized experimental design involving jury eligible community members: (1) are jurors’ decisions to convict and sentence in a criminal trial influenced by genomic (DNA) evidence?, and (2) whether this evidence differentially impacts jurors decisions to convict and sentence Black versus White defendants? Four mock trials will be video recorded that manipulate genomic evidence (present or absent) and defendant race (Black or White). This study builds on past research by using focal concerns theory’s concepts of blameworthiness and protection of community to inform its hypotheses regarding race of defendant, genomic evidence, and criminal adjudication. Based on the blameworthiness hypothesis, it is expected that conditions with genomic evidence will have fewer convictions, and of those convictions, they will be less punitive, compared to the conditions without genomic evidence. It is hypothesized that genomic evidence may increase jurors’ perception of risk for re-offending, effectively increasing the defendants punishment. In regards to race, it is hypothesized that if the genomic evidence reduces sentence length (blameworthiness hypothesis), it will be less of a reduction for Black defendants compared to White defendants. If the evidence increases sentence length (protection of community hypothesis), Black defendants will receive a longer sentence compared to White defendants. A power analysis was conducted to determine a sample size of 300 is necessary to detect a small effective size with power of .80. Chi-square analysis will be used to examine differences in verdict and ANOVAs will be estimated to examine differences in sentence length across four experimental conditions. Understanding how jurors’ perceive genomic evidence will facilitate a better understanding of how genomic evidence may produce further racial inequality in the American judicial system.