Manual The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman: (Aged 55 2/3)

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There were no mandatory questions, so respondents were free to skip anything that they did not wish to answer. Through SurveyMonkey Audience, an invitation to complete a survey was sent to a random sample of users. Respondents who clicked the email link were taken to the informed consent page of their randomly assigned survey condition. Respondents then clicked through the survey materials; participants were allowed to view the trial evidence for as long as they wanted, but were not able to go back to the evidence upon leaving the page. Several bivariate correlations were particularly noteworthy.

Most variables measuring juror evidence perceptions were correlated with the likelihood that the defendant's confession was false. As the perceived likelihood of a false confession increased, perceptions of evidence strength decreased.

The respondent's gender is also significantly correlated with strength of evidence measures such that male respondents perceived evidence to be stronger than female respondents. Several measures are also correlated with the race of the respondent. To be conservative, subsequent analyses were conducted controlling for participant gender and race. Despite these large correlations, tests for multicollinearity showed no issues with including all four of these variables in subsequent analyses, as the largest variance inflation factor was 4.

The covariates were respondent's race and gender, as these demographic factors were significantly correlated with several evidentiary variables. In general, women seemed to be more skeptical of the entire case, as female ratings of evidence strength were significantly lower than the reported perceptions of male respondents. It should be noted that although race appears to be a factor, the small number of minorities 53 respondents, Longer interrogations resulted in reductions in the perceived strength of the confession and overall evidence and the voluntariness of the confession, and increases in the perceived likelihood of a false confession.

The defendant working all night prior to the interrogation led to a decrease in the perceived strength of the confession and overall case, and an increase in the likelihood that the confession was false. As the number of interrogators increased from one to three, confession strength decreased. However, this effect went in the opposite direction from what was theorized: the confession was rated to be stronger when an expert witness testified 5.

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In these analyses there were no significant interaction effects, and when analyses were repeated using only the subset of accurate respondents, there were no differences in magnitude of effects or significance of results. Three separate logistic regression models predicted verdict using: 1 all situational factors and interactions; 2 evidence strength ratings; and 3 all situational factors, ratings of evidence strength, and interactions.

Each of these three logistic regressions also included participant gender and race. Additionally, respondent gender and race significantly predicted verdicts. In model 2, situational factors were dropped and replaced with evidence strength ratings, along with gender and race. Finally, model 3 includes all of the variables used in models 1 and 2. The main predictors of verdict are perceptions of the strength of the case, the likelihood that the confession was false, and the likelihood that the confession was voluntary. When analyses were redone with only the subset of accurate respondents, results remained the same.

The first hypothesis of this study Hypothesis 1 predicted that the confession would be perceived as weaker in experimental conditions containing situational factors. Although not all situational factors had the same effect, a defendant that faced a lengthy interrogation and, to a lesser extent, lacked a full night's sleep gave a confession that respondents deemed less likely to be voluntary and more likely to be false than a confession given without the presence of these situational factors. While using three interrogators versus one interrogator was expected to significantly impact juror perceptions of the confession, no significant effects were found.

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Hypothesis 2 of Study 2 was related to previous findings that the confession in a criminal case is the most important driver of a verdict, even with the inclusion of situational factors Devine, ; Devine et al. The current study finds support for this hypothesis. Finally, partial support was found for Hypothesis 3, that the inclusion of situational factors would not result in significant decreases in the conviction rate.

In addition to results that specifically addressed the hypotheses of Study 2, several interesting findings merit further discussion. Previous research has discussed how confession evidence can taint other aspects of the case, such as an inability to overcome the weight of a confession against a defendant Kassin et al.

These studies find that although individual pieces of evidence are theoretically independent of one another, this is not the case in practice. The current study supports this theory by showing a link between interrogation length and eyewitness strength. A second noteworthy finding concerned the impact of expert testimony on false confessions.

An expert witness condition was included to determine whether juror opinions would change when they were made aware of false confession risk factors and potential problems with the current confession. Based on this prior research, the presumption was that an expert testifying about false confessions would educate jurors about how they could determine if a confession was false or coerced, leading to jurors being more likely to find the confession false and coerced, and less likely to convict.

However, the opposite result was found in Study 2; the inclusion of expert witness testimony led to a significant increase in the perceived strength of the confession. Thus, rather than helping their case, the defense's expert witness caused jurors to be more convinced of the defendant's guilt. It is possible that the reason the current study found a negative impact of the expert testimony is because respondents were unable to compare the expert testimony with a presentation of evidence that did not include expert testimony. In a study of actual jurors who had participated in criminal trials in Texas, Boccaccini, Murrie, and Turner found that the presentation of expert testimony for the defense led jurors to become skeptical of expert testimony offered by both sides.

Similarly, Levett and Bull Kovera found that jurors thought experts for both sides were less credible when opposition to an expert's testimony was offered by another expert. Robertson and Yokum found that blinded experts were rated as more credible and more influential. Because Internet access is not universal in the United States, a truly nationally representative population is unlikely to be achieved through online sampling. Respondents are also older, more highly educated, and have higher annual household incomes than the overall population.

It is not known how these differences between the US population and the survey sample impact the results of this study. As has been discussed previously, collecting the sample online through SurveyMonkey Audience rather than in person necessitated the use of a trial summary rather than a complete transcript. The goal of this research was to better understand how situational interrogation factors impact evidence strength and how the inclusion of these factors might affect the outcomes of criminal trials.

By looking at situational factors related to the interrogation setting, as originally suggested by Kassin and Sukel , this research attempted to explain how aspects of an interrogation influence jurors' perception of the reliability of the confession and its resulting strength toward conviction. The first study provides support for the idea that interrogation factors impact the perceived strength of a confession and overall case, but have little impact on the end verdict.

The second study used a larger, more representative sample to expand on the first study, and identified interrogation length as the situational factor that has the greatest impact on juror perceptions as compared with number of interrogators and suspect wakefulness. There are two main findings relating to the hypotheses of these two studies. The first important finding deals with Hypothesis 3, that the inclusion of situational risk factors would impact perceptions of the strength of the confession, yet not change conviction rates.

While there were a few scenarios in Study 2 where the conviction rate significantly decreased due to the inclusion of situational factors, this hypothesis was generally supported overall. Although interrogation length was consistently found to significantly lower the perceived strength of the confession, this generally did not translate to a lower conviction rate. Because a juror's only vote is either guilty or not guilty, it can be difficult to change opinions regarding the guilt of the defendant. The second main finding relates to the Hypothesis 1 of these two studies, which stated that situational interrogation factors would significantly affect the perceived strength of the interrogation.

Out of the three interrogation factors tested, only the length of interrogation had significant effects on the perceived confession strength. Jurors presented with lengthy interrogations rated the confession as being significantly weaker than jurors who were told the interrogation only lasted 1 hour. The same cannot be said for the other two situational factors, as the presence of three interrogators and a lack of suspect wakefulness had no effect on the strength of the perceived confession.

These two factors were intended to indicate a potentially coercive environment that can lead to a false confession, but respondents did not find this to be the case. Though Kassin and McNall found that mock jurors acknowledged that false confessions could happen, mock jurors could not imagine falsely confessing when placing themselves in the same situation. Jurors may not have appreciated how three interrogators and a lack of recent sleep could lead to a false confession.

The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman

Although Respondents in the current research clearly did not have concerns about confessions that were given in the presence of three interrogators. Similarly, while a lack of sleep is a clearly defined risk factor in the literature Kassin et al. Frank Sterling , respondents were unaffected by the defendant's lack of sleep. Although respondents can understand how a lack of sleep could be harmful to a defendant, a respondent's inability to imagine themselves falsely confessing may limit the potential for a lack of sleep to significantly impact perceptions of evidence strength.

One of the main findings of this study, then, is that even though the factors chosen for analysis are known to increase the likelihood of false confessions, respondents in this study were either unaware of, or untroubled by, the presence of these risk factors. Kalven and Zeisel hypothesized that when the outcome of a case is readily apparent, there is no need for jurors to determine their verdict using anything other than the evidence at hand.

However, when the case outcome is ambiguous and jurors need to make a determination of guilt or innocence based on evidence that could go either way, other factors outside the evidence, such as characteristics of the defendant, or the juror themselves, are used see also Devine et al. The average respondent found the evidence to slightly favor the prosecution, but not overwhelmingly so. Additionally, the resulting conviction rates were not consistently in favor of guilt or innocence, lending more support to the idea that the outcome was somewhat in dispute.


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The overall rate of conviction was The findings for Study 2 indicate that there were several factors not related to the case that had a significant impact on perceptions of evidence and resulting verdict. Respondent demographics such as race, gender, and level of education significantly impacted the perceived strength of evidence. More educated respondents perceived the evidence as weaker and less indicative of the defendant's guilt. Likewise, minority and female respondents perceived the evidence to be weaker than did White and male respondents.

These findings provide support for the liberation hypothesis. Because judges in the criminal justice system have wide discretion over whether to allow expert testimony, the belief that false confessions are understood by jurors limits the defense's ability to present false confession testimony. Thus while research has found that jurors want to hear expert testimony, this testimony may not be allowed by a particular judge.

Although Study 2 did not find expert testimony to be impactful, this research finds limits to what jurors know about confessions and interrogations. For example, although sleeplessness and the presence of multiple interrogators are both risk factors for false confessions, respondents in Study 2 did not see these factors as something that weakened the strength of the defendant's confession. Although the interrogation led to the same outcome i.

Most respondents were given no additional information about the risks of a lengthy interrogation, so the perception of a long interrogation as potentially untrustworthy is something that may not be beyond the ken of the average juror. Although a lengthy interrogation influenced perceptions of confession strength, there was little or no impact due to sleeplessness and multiple interrogators found in either study.

This is a surprising finding given that sleeplessness, police pressure, and social isolation are all factors known to increase the likelihood of a false confession when the suspect is innocent. Thus the impact of these factors is seemingly not well understood by mock jurors in the current research. This is potentially problematic for the criminal justice system, as there is wide discretion given to the courts to determine whether jurors need to be educated about false confession risk factors.

Even with the inclusion of an expert witness's explicit testimony about these factors, mock jurors in Study 2 were resistant to seeing this information as leading to unreliable confessions.

Why Do Middle-Aged Women Become Invisible

Although expert witness testimony in Study 2 was inconclusive, the current research highlights the need for expert testimony to explain to jurors the potential impact that sleeplessness and police interrogation tactics can have on a defendant.