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Chapter 12: Law
• Crime must be detected and reported. Through investigation, police find suspect and decide whether or
not to make an arrest.
• The suspect is jailed or bail is set, and judge or grand jury decides if there is sufficient evidence for a
formal accusation. If there is, prosecuting and defense lawyers begin “discovery”, a lengthy process of
gathering evidence; the defendant may plead guilty.
• In cases that go to trial, after conviction the judge imposes a sentence, and the defendant decides
whether to appeal to a higher court. For those in prison, decisions concerning release are made by
• The collection, presentation, and evaluation of evidence are imperfect human enterprises subject to bias
– through an understanding of social psychology, we can identify some problems and their solutions.
• Right to trial by impartial jury if accused of crime or involved in lawsuit in the U.S. 3 step process:
o 1) Court uses voter registration lists, telephone directories, and other sources to compile master list
of eligible citizens in community.
o 2) People on the list are randomly drawn and summoned for duty, to achieve a representative
o 3) These people are subject to voir dire, the pretrial examination of prospective jurors by the judge
or opposing lawyers to uncover signs of bias. E.g. if they know one of the parties, has an interest in
the outcomes of the case, or has already formed an opinion.
• In addition to de-selecting biased individual, lawyers can exercise peremptory challenges, where they
reject a limited number of prospective jurors even without having to state reasons or with the judge’s
Trial Lawyers as Intuitive Psychologists
• Trial lawyers often take an intuitive approach to jury selection, relying on implicit personality theories
(assumptions about how attributes are related to each other and to behaviour) and stereotypes.
• Most lawyers cannot effectively predict how jurors will vote, either by intuitive rules of thumb about
gender, race, age, or other demographics, or by responses during the voir dire.
• U.S. Supreme Court has limited use of peremptory challenges to prevent lawyers from systematically
excluding prospective jurors based on race.
• Just like most people, attorneys are influenced by conscious and unconscious racial stereotypes, and do
not typically acknowledge them even when demonstrating racial biases.
• Whether a juror characteristic predicts verdicts depends on the specifics of each case.
Scientific Jury Selection
• Use of jury consultants began during Vietnam War with trial of the Harrisburg Seven. Jay Schulman
interviewed 840 residents of the local community.
o Ideal defense juror: Female Democrat with no religious preference, and white-collar job.
o Defense selected jury, resulting in 10 to 2 in favour of acquittal despite strong evidence
o O.J. Simpson defense team also hired jury consultants, concluding that African American women
would be strongest defenders – despite intuitive notions about their attitude towards his domestic
violence. Page 2 of9
• Scientific Jury Selection: Method of selecting juries through surveys that yield correlations between
demographics and trial-relevant attitudes.
• Seek correlations through focus groups, mock juries, and community-wide surveys. Then, during voir dire
ask prospective jurors about these background factors, using peremptory challenges to exclude those
with profiles associated with unfavourable attitudes.
• Does scientific jury selection tip scales in favour of wealthy clients able to afford the service, widening
socioeconomic gap in court? Or is problem with legal system that allows peremptory challenges?
Juries in Black and White: Does Race matter?
• Kerr (1995): Tested hypothesis that jurors favour defendants similar to themselves, presenting mixed-
race groups with a strong or weak case involving a black or white defendant.
o When evidence was weak, subjects more lenient towards defendant of safe race – but harsher
when the evidence was strong, to distance themselves.
• Sommers and Ellsworth (2001): Tested hypothesis that jurors show preference of racial ingroup members
when the crime involves race, like a motivated hate crime.
o Opposite result: when race is a prominent issue, jurors deliberate try not to appear prejudiced, and
do not discriminate.
• Exhibition of racial bias depends on composition of jury that individual juror is part of.
o Mock trial with black defendant, after voir dire that either did or did not make race a prominent
issue. Juries formed were all black, all white, or heterogeneous.
o For whites in diverse groups, 34% voted guilty compared to 51% in all-white groups.
• Juror’s attitudes towards the death penalty composed of various beliefs: legitimacy of retribution and
revenge, deterrence, and cost. Those who favour the death penalty are more likely to hold
fundamentalist religious views, harbour authoritarian beliefs, and belief that people get what they
• Death Qualification: Jury-selection procedure used in capital cases that permits judges to exclude
prospective jurors who say they would not vote for the death penalty.
• Are death-qualified juries prone to convict, tipping the balance of the verdict to the prosecution?
o Yes, those who support the death penalty are more prosecution-minded about many issues, and
are more likely to deliver a guilty verdict.
o Even hearing death-qualification voir dire questions in itself is biasing – presume defendant’s guilt,
communicating that court considers death a desirable form of punishment.
• Supreme Court rejected research, ruling that death qualification does not violate a defendant’s right to a
• Many people who would be excluded for a general opposition to capital punishment would still consider it
for a specific case, for those found guilty of atrocious acts of violence.
THE COURTROOM DRAMA
• Central Park jogger case (1989): Despite confessions, 5 teenage boys did not rape the female jogger. A
serial rapist, Matias Reyes, had committed the crime; this was confirmed by DNA testing.
Police Interrogations: Social Influence under Pressure
• Police must warn suspects about rights to silence and an attorney. Page 3 of 9
• Tactics of physical isolation in a small, bare, and soundproof room to arouse feelings of helplessness and
discomfort. Nine-step procedure designed to extract confessions:
o One approach to pressure suspect into submission by expressing certainty in their guilt, even
claiming to have damaging evidence. The accused is led to believe it is futile to mount a defense.
o 2 approach to befriend suspect, offer sympathy and advice, and minimizing the offense by
offering face-saving excuses. The suspect is lulled into a false sense of security and caves,
The Risk of False Confessions
• False confessions: When innocent people confess to crimes they did not commit.
• Sometimes innocent people confess as an act of compliance, to escape of long periods of interrogation
with fatigue, despair, and deprivation. Defendants may think that cooperation will lead to better
• Internalization: When innocent suspects believe themselves guilty of the crime. Factors that increase
o 1) When suspect lacks clear memory of event in question
o 2) Presentation of false evidence
o As well, people naturally vulnerable to suggestion more likely to be induced to internalize guilt
o Internalization demonstrated by subject “admitting” guilt to a stranger (confederate) when alone
• Tactics of promises of leniency and minimization of seriousness of violation increases number of true
confessions among those who cheated in experiment. However, it also increases rate of false
Confessions and the Jury: An Attributional Dilemma
• Attribution dilemma when a suspect confesses, but then withdraws statement and pleads not guilty. If
confession was clearly coerced, statement excluded; if not coerced, it is admitted into evidence to be
o Personal Attribution: Suspect statement indicates guilt.
o Situational Attribution: Confession was to avoid unpleasant consequences of silence.
• Fundamental attribution error of favouring personal attributions: would jurors view suspects as guilty
even if they confessed under coercion?
o Yes. 19% vote guilty without confession. Low-pressure confession: 62%; coerced-confession: 50%.
o People are powerfully influenced by evidence f a confession, even when coerced and relayed
• Most people, including police officers, cannot differentiate between true and false confessions.
• To avoid effects of false confessions, new requirements of videotaping the full interrogation to enable
judges and juries to see how confession came about, and the extent to which it was coerced.
o Perception is influenced by camera perspective: when camera focuses on accused, people
underestimate pressure of interrogator. Situation seen as more coercive when camera focused on
The Lie-Detector Test
• Polygraph: Mechanical instrument that records signs of physiological arousal from multiple sensors that
measure breathing, heart rate, and perspiration; it is often used as a lie-detector test.
• Assumption that when people lie, they become anxious and aroused in measurable ways. One
compares baseline level of arousal, then asks crime-relevant questions and control questions
(arousing but crime-irrelevant). Page 4 of 9
• In theory, suspects who are innocent (truthful denial) should be more aroused by control questions, while
guilty suspects (false denial) are more aroused by crime-relevant questions.
• Under certain conditions (naïve suspect, competent examiner), polygraph can differentiate truth and
deception relatively accurately.
• Problems of truthful persons often failing the test, and possibility of faking results – using physical
countermeasures to appear aroused on control questions to mask arousal on crime-relevant questions.
• Judges may refuse to admit polygraph test results into evidence. Other tests: brain activity and oxygen
levels in areas associated with deception, pupil dilation, etc.
• Many instances of people convicted based on eyewitness accounts later proven innocent by DNA
evidence. Eyewitness error is the most common cause of wrongful convictions.
• 1) Eyewitnesses are imperfect. 2) Certain personal and situational factors can systematically influence
their performance. 3) Judges, juries, and lawyers are not adequately informed about these factors.
• Memory is a 3-stage process of acquisition, storage, and retrieval of information.
• Witness’s perceptions at time of event. Affected by exposure time, lighting, distance, disguises, and
• Emotional state of high stress decreases accuracy of memory, e.g. bloody shooting, car wreck, assault.
• Arousal induces witnesses to zoom in on the central features of an event – the culprit, victim, or weapon
– while impairing memory for less central details.
• Alcohol reduces accuracy of recall, especially making false identifications when perpetrator is absent.
• Weapon-Focus Effect: Tendency of the presence of a weapon to draw attention and impair a witness’s
ability to identify the culprit.
o People are agitated by sight of menacing stimulus, and attention on weapon draws it away from the
• Cross-Race Identification Bias: Tendency for people to have difficulty identifying members of a race
other than their own. Finding that “they all look alike” is reliable across many different racial and ethnic
• Memory for faces and events tend to decline with the passage of time.
• Misinformation Effect: The tendency for false post-event misinformation to become integrated into
people’s memory of an event.
o Loftus and Palmer (1974): Subjects view film of traffic accident and asked about speed of collision
– wording varied from “smashed” to “contacted”, and answered varied based on word use.
o When subjects later called back, wording of questions had caused them to reconstruct their
memories of the accident, such as about presence of broken glass.
o Reports are biased, but unsure if real memory can still be retrieved intact.
• Suggestive interview procedures can cause young children to give false testimony: case of Margaret
Michaels, a preschool teacher accused of sex abuse. Child witnesses were asked leading questions,
urged to describe acts they had denied, offered bribes, and pressured; there was no physical evidence or
any other witnesses.
• Are children too prone to confuse reality and fantasy, and thus unreliable?
o Yes: Repetition, misinformation, and leading questions can bias memory report, especially for
o Clear interviewing guidelines with objective questioning required. Page 5 of 9
• Multiple memory retrievals when questioned by police and lawyers, view lineup or mug shots, assist in
construction of facial composite, and testify. Each increases risk of error and distortion.
• Facial composite seldom produces a face that resembles actual culprit, and process itself decreases
identification accuracy due to confusion and difficulty.
o On average, morphs from composites done by multiple eyewitnesses more similar to target than
• Photographic or live lineup identifications often result in mistaken identity. Four factors affecting
• 1) Construction: Lineup should contain 4-8 innocent persons (“foils”) who match general description of
culprit. Must also decrease any distinctive characters of suspect that increase chance of being selected.
• 2) Instructions: Biased instructions indicating culprit was present in lineup lead witnesses to feel
compelled to identify someone, often picking an innoc