Behavioral Sciences & the Law

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Volume 37 Issue 1 (January 2019), Pages 1-126

How confession characteristics impact juror perceptions of evidence in criminal trials (pages 90-108)

A confession is one of the most impactful pieces of evidence that can be presented in a criminal trial, yet very little is known about how perceptions of evidence change based on characteristics of the confession. While researchers know that “circumstances of the setting”, such as length of interrogation, number of interrogators, and lack of sleep, increase the likelihood of false confessions, less is known about whether juror perceptions of the confession are impacted by these factors. The current research builds on the existing literature by evaluating the impact of these situational confession factors to determine whether jurors give weight to characteristics that are known to increase the likelihood of a false confession. Two experimental surveys were conducted, one using a sample of undergraduate students and one using a sample of jury‐eligible adults, in order to determine how respondents perceived a confession's strength. Results showed that confessions arising from lengthy interrogations were perceived to be weaker than those arising from short interrogations. However, multiple interrogators and a lack of sleep had little impact on evidence perceptions; these factors indicate a questionable confession to experts, but not to jurors. The implications for criminal justice theory, criminal trials, and future research are discussed.

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