Confessions in the Courtroom
When the prosecution introduces confession testimony during a criminal trial, the effect is usually overwhelming. In fact, jurors' verdicts are affected more by a confession than by eyewitness testimony. While eyewitness studies are massive in numbers, the topic of confession evidence has been largely ignored by psychologists and other social scientists. Confessions in the Courtroom seeks to rectify this discrepancy. This timely book examines how the legal system has evolved in its treatment of confessions over the last half century and discusses, at length, the U.S. Supreme Court's decision regarding Arizona v. Fulminante which caused a reassessment of the acceptability of confessions generated under duress. The authors examine the causes of confessions and the interrogation procedure used by the police. They also evaluate the process ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: Confessions in Court
- Definition of a Confession
- The Complexity of Confessions
- The Confession of Brian Keith Bell
- A Jury Trial from the Jurors' Perspective
- Recurring Themes
- Overview of the Book
- Chapter 2: The Law: A Historical View
- Shifts in English Jurisprudence
- U.S. Supreme Court Decisions in the Early 1900s
- Dual Objectives
- The Voluntariness Criterion
- A Hearing to Assess Voluntariness
- The Impact of the Warren Court
- A Shift toward Admissibility
- Chapter 3: Recent Court Decisions: A Not-So-Quiet Revolution
- Confession by a Mentally Deficient Child
- Confession under Extenuating Circumstances
- Police Coercion Needed to Find a Confession Involuntary
- Applying the “Harmless Error” Rule to Confessions
- Pretrial Publicity about a Confession
- Chapter 4: Police Interrogations
- A Historical Review of the Use of Confessions
- Interrogation in other Countries
- An Assumption of Guilt
- Interrogation by Police in the United States
- Chapter 5: Why People Confess: Psychological Perspectives
- Types of False Confessions
- Psychological Perspectives
- True Confessions
- Chapter 6: Jurors' Reactions to Confessions Evidence
- Probability-of-Commission Estimates
- Summary and Conclusions
- Chapter 7: The Psychologist as Expert Witness
- Early Efforts to Testify
- Standards for Admissibility
- The Paul Ingram Case: An Example of a Coerced-Internalized Confession
- The Bradley Page Case: An Example of a Coerced-Compliant Confession
- What Does Psychological Testimony Have to Offer?
- Chapter 8: The Future of Confessions
- An Increase in Disputed Confessions
- Sources of Change
- “More Research is Needed”
Copyright © 1993 by Sage Publications, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Wrightsman, Lawrence S.
Confessions in the courtroom / Lawrence S. Wrightsman, Saul M. Kassin.
Includes bibliographical references and indexes.
ISBN 0-8039-4554-X (cl). — ISBN 0-8039-4555-8 (pb)
1. Confession (Law)—United States. 2. Evidence, Criminal—United States. I. Kassin, Saul M. II. Title.
93 94 95 96 97 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Sage Production Editor: Astrid Virding
Problems raised by confession evidence are just as basic to the administration of criminal justice and just as important as problems with eyewitness testimony. Yet for reasons that are unclear to us, in contrast to the massive numbers of eyewitness studies, the topic of confession evidence has been almost completely ignored by psychologists and other social scientists. This book seeks to rectify that discrepancy. Our approach builds upon the methods, theories, and concepts of psychology; whether the focus is on the police methods of interrogation, their effects on suspects, or the jury's reaction to the evidence, the approach of social psychology offers a fruitful perspective.
This is an appropriate time to examine the role that confessions play in the administration of criminal justice in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the case Arizona v. Fulminante, discussed in detail in this book, has caused a reassessment of the acceptability of confessions generated under duress. Our goals in this book are, first, to examine how the legal system has, over the last half century, evolved its concept of the proper way to treat confessions, and then to examine psychological perspectives on why people confess and how other people, especially jurors, react to confessions. In looking at the causes of confessions, we carefully examine the interrogation procedures used by police. We evaluate the process for determining whether a confession should be admitted as evidence in [Page x]a trial. We summarize our program of research on jurors' reactions to voluntary and coerced confessions. We attempt to assess the impact of the Fulminante decision on the future of these phenomena.
Our aim is to provide the first comprehensive multidisciplinary account of the state of criminal confessions in the United States today. The more than 170 references we cite range from reports of psychological research to appellate court decisions to descriptions of trials by journalists. Our audience is social scientists, attorneys, and members of the justice system who seek a readable and objective treatment of this topic. Our hope is that this book will contribute to the recognition that confession evidence is not only a topic of concern to our society, but also a topic worthy of increased investigation.
This is the fourth book that the two of us have authored or edited for Sage Publications on aspects of the court system. We are indebted to C. Terry Hendrix, Senior Editor of Sage Publications, for encouraging us to develop our ideas and for identifying topics of interest to scholars and professional persons. The staff of Sage Publications continue to be a model for what a publishing company should be in regard to helpfulness to authors.
We have benefited also from the assistance of students and colleagues in the preparation of this book. At the University of Kansas, Teddy D. Warner (now on the faculty of Iowa State University) was a co-author on some of the research described in Chapter 6. Chris Bauer prepared a draft of the report on the Bernhard Goetz confession. Don Christie analyzed police manuals. Jennifer Gottschalk and Stacey Stranathan did library research and analyzed data. Laura Shaw facilitated an improvement in the description of details from the Fulminante case. Among the faculty, Professor Pete Rowland of the Department of Political Science clarified court decisions and Professor David Holmes brought several significant pieces of research to our attention.
At Williams College a number of students have been co-authors in the program of research described in Chapter 6; these include [Page xii]Marisa E. Reddy, William F. Tulloch, Karlyn McNall, Holly Sukel, Lee Kiechel, and John Facciani.
We value the comments of K. C. Scull on Chapter 3. We are unable to list the names of all of the journalists, attorneys, and judges with whom we have discussed confessions evidence but we have learned from the opportunity to interrogate them. Of course, any errors or misinterpretations in this book are our responsibility and not that of our colleagues, students, or consultants.
Finally, a special set of thanks is offered to Katia Silva, who typed several drafts of this manuscript with unfailing enthusiasm, impressive accuracy, and unbelievable promptness.——
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