Knowingly but Naively: The Overpowering Influence of Innocence on Interrogation Rights Decision-Making

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Abstract

Most suspects waive the guaranteed protections that interrogation rights afford them against police intimidation. One factor thought to motivate suspects’ inclination to waive their rights stems from the acquiescence bias whereby suspects mindlessly comply with interrogators’ requests. However, research bearing on the phenomenology of innocence has demonstrated the power of innocents’ mindset, which could motivate some innocent suspects to waive their rights knowingly (instead of mindlessly complying). To test these ideas, participants (N = 178) were (a) rightfully (guilty) or wrongfully (innocent) accused of wrongdoing during an experimental session, (b) administered 1 of 2 forms that by signing either waived or invoked their rights to a student advocate, and (c) given questions to assess their degree of knowing during the decision-making process (i.e., extent to which individuals were cognizant of their decisions). Results demonstrated that unknowing innocent and guilty individuals tended to passively comply, engaging in a pre-interrogation acquiescence bias by signing waive and invoke forms at similar rates. But, as participants became more cognizant of their decisions, they acquiesced at lower rates and their change from acquiescence differed depending on their status. As innocents became more cognizant, they signed the waiver form at higher rates than the invoke form, thereby demonstrating that innocence can motivate some suspects to knowingly forgo their rights. Conversely, as guilty individuals became more cognizant, they signed the invoke form at higher rates than the waiver form. These findings have implications for reforming pre-interrogation protocols, protecting suspects’ civil liberties, and preventing innocents from offering false self-incriminating evidence.

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