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Cynthia J. Najdowski:

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Juveniles are at heightened risk for falsely confessing to crimes, particularly if they are intellectually disabled. We conducted a mock trial experiment to investigate the effects of a juvenile defendant’s confession and status as intellectually disabled on jurors’ decision making. As expected, jurors discounted a juvenile’s coerced confession: Jurors’ judgments were similar for a juvenile who was perceived to have confessed under coercion and a juvenile who did not confess. In general, these effects were explained by the fact that, compared to a juvenile who was perceived as having confessed voluntarily, a juvenile who was perceived as having confessed under coercion was seen as more suggestible and less likely to have confessed truthfully. These perceptions led jurors to feel more sympathy and less anger toward the juvenile who confessed under coercion, and ultimately render more pro-defense judgments for her. The juvenile’s disability status did not moderate these effects, nor did it influence jurors’ verdicts nor suspicions of guilt. Jurors who suspected the juvenile was guilty, however, were less likely to vote guilty and less likely to think it was appropriate for the trial to be held in adult court when the juvenile was perceived as intellectually disabled rather than nondisabled, partially because they thought the disabled juvenile was less criminally deviant and less able to control her behavior and because they had more sympathy for her. Implications for psychological theory and public policy are discussed.


“©American Psychological Association, 2012. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the APA journal. The final article is available, upon publication, at: Najdowski, C. J., & Bottoms, B. L. (2012). Understanding jurors’ judgments in cases involving juvenile defendants: Effects of confession evidence and intellectual disability. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 18(2), 297-337.



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