Defendant Stereotypicality Moderates the Effect of Confession Evidence on Judgments of Guilt

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Abstract

This research examined whether criminal stereotypes—i.e., beliefs about the typical characteristics of crime perpetrators—influence mock jurors’ judgments of guilt in cases involving confession evidence. Mock jurors (N = 450) read a trial transcript that manipulated whether a defendant’s ethnicity was stereotypic or counterstereotypic of a crime, and whether the defendant had confessed to the crime or not. When a confession was present, the transcript varied whether the confession had been obtained using high-pressure or low-pressure interrogation tactics. Consistent with the hypothesis, the presence of a confession (relative to no confession) increased perceptions of the defendant’s guilt when the defendant was stereotypic of the crime, regardless of the interrogation tactics that had been used to obtain it. When the defendant was counterstereotypic of the crime, however, the presence of a confession did not significantly increase perceptions of guilt, even when the confession was obtained using low-pressure interrogation tactics. These findings demonstrate the potentially powerful effects of criminal stereotypes on legal judgments and suggest that individuals who fit a criminal stereotype may be disadvantaged over the course of the criminal justice process.

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