On the General Acceptance of Confessions Research: Opinions of the Scientific Community

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Abstract

Eighty-seven experts on the psychology of confessions—many of whom were highly published, many with courtroom experience—were surveyed online about their opinions on 30 propositions of relevance to deception detection, police interrogations, confessions, and relevant general principles of psychology. As indicated by an agreement rate of at least 80%, there was a strong consensus that several findings are sufficiently reliable to present in court. This list includes but is not limited to the proposition that the risk of false confessions is increased not only by explicit threats and promises but by 2 common interrogation tactics—namely, the false evidence ploy and minimization tactics that imply leniency by offering sympathy and moral justification. Experts also strongly agreed that the risk of undue influence is higher among adolescents, individuals with compliant or suggestible personalities, and those with intellectual impairments or diagnosed psychological disorders. Additional findings indicated that experts set a high standard before judging a proposition to be sufficiently reliable for court—and an even higher standard on the question “Would you testify?” Regarding their role as scientific experts, virtually all respondents stated that their primary objective was to educate the jury and that juries are more competent at evaluating confession evidence with assistance from an expert than without. These results should assist trial courts and expert witnesses in determining what aspects of the science are generally accepted and suitable for presentation in court.

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