Juror Sensitivity to False Confession Risk Factors: Dispositional vs. Situational Attributions for a Confession

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Abstract

Research on jurors’ perceptions of confession evidence suggests that jurors may not be sensitive to factors that can influence the reliability of a confession. Jurors’ decisions tend not to be influenced by situational pressures to confess, which suggests that jurors commit the correspondence bias when evaluating a confession. One method to potentially increase sensitivity and counteract the correspondence bias is by highlighting a motivation other than guilt for the defendant’s confession. We conducted 3 experiments to evaluate jurors’ sensitivity to false confession risk factors. Participants read a trial transcript that varied the presence of false confession risk factors within an interrogation. Some participants also read testimony that presented an alternative motivation for the confession (expert testimony, Experiments 1 and 3; defendant testimony, Experiment 2). Across 3 experiments, participants were generally able to distinguish between interrogation practices that can produce a false confession, regardless of the presence or absence of expert or defendant testimony. Experiment 3 explored whether participants’ attributions for the confessor’s motivation were affected by interrogative pressure and expert testimony, and whether these attributions affected verdicts. Participants’ reluctance to convict when false confession risk factors were present was associated with situational, rather than dispositional, attributions regarding the defendant’s motivation to confess. It is possible that increased knowledge is responsible for participants’ improved sensitivity to false confession risk factors.

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