Perceptions of coercion: a comparison of perspectives
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When a confession is retracted, issues of coercion and voluntariness are important and often contested matters in criminal courts. Counsel may wish to call an expert witness to testify about the coercive pressures of certain interrogation tactics, personal traits that increase suspect vulnerability, and the possibility of false confession. Such testimony must meet certain criteria (e.g., Daubert v. Merrell Dow, 1993; R v. Mohan, 1994), and is often ruled inadmissible on the grounds that it does not inform the jury beyond their common knowledge (Cutler, Findley, & Loney, 2014; Kassin et al., 2018). To investigate common understanding of coercion in interrogation, I examined jury-eligible laypersons' (n= 50) perceptions of the coerciveness of items representing minimization techniques, maximization techniques, prohibited tactics, and suspect risk factors. Their ratings were compared with those of two groups of content experts: social scientists specializing in interrogation and confession (n = 50) and criminal justice officials experienced in conducting interrogations or evaluating confession evidence (n= 20). The two groups of content experts showed a high level of agreement, though laypeople gave significantly lower ratings to the coercive potential of all sets of items representing interrogation techniques. Given the disparities between laypersons' and experts' perceptions of coercion in interrogation, and the connection between coercion and false confession (Drizin & Leo, 2004; Kassin et al., 2010; Leo & Ofshe, 1998), the results suggest the need for expert guidance to inform jurors about coercive factors which may render a confession unsafe and unreliable.