Date of Award

5-2018

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Cynthia Najdowski

Abstract

This research is focused on understanding jurors’ beliefs about how much weight juvenile defendants’ confessions should be given, especially when the confessions were coerced. This is an important topic because adolescents are vulnerable and at risk for producing false confessions. Because of their age and other developmental factors, they can sometimes be coerced by police during interrogation to admit to crimes they did not commit. Once a confession is obtained, it can be very persuasive to jurors because it is hard for them to believe that someone would admit to a crime they did not commit. This can lead to wrongful convictions. Furthermore, certain racial groups are treated unfairly in the criminal justice system, yet no previous studies have examined whether defendant race affects the way potential jurors view confession evidence. Thus, this mock trial research investigates whether jurors are able to disregard a coerced confession made by a juvenile defendant, and whether that decision is affected by the race of the juvenile. Participants completed an online experimental survey in which they read a summary of a case involving a 12-year-old girl charged with murdering her father. The girl defendant was either Black or White and she either gave no confession, a voluntary confession, or a coerced confession. Effects of defendant race and confession type on jurors’ judgments were measured via suspicion-of-guilt and degree-of-guilt ratings. Results indicate that jurors were able to discount a coerced confession for both the Black and White girl offender, but held the Black girl more accountable in the voluntary confession condition. Implications for ensuring fair and just jury trials will be discussed.

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