Jurors Don't Discount Evidence Obtained From Rough Treatment

An interesting side note to the debate about how to try roughed-up detainees: new research from psychologists and criminologists suggests that jurors tend not to discount evidence obtained from rough interrogations even though there's plenty of evidence to suggest that those claims aren't reliable. Writing in Psychology, Crime & Law, 2009, the authors conclude that jurors' expert bias -- their penchant to view expert testimony as more reliable -- overrides their perceptions and evaluations of the situation under which an interrogation was conducted. Indeed, even when given hints that confessions are false, jurors tend to put some weight in them.  This finding, which replicates others in the field, has some important implications for any federal trials of terrorist suspects. Jurors tend to put themselves in the shoes of people under duress and project upon them their own principles, such as -- if they were innocent, they'd never give in to torture. Assuming that some evidence some rougher interrogations makes it through the judge's gauntlet, jurors might not penalize the government. This finding also bodes well for prosecutors who want to try and find collateral information that confirms information obtained via torture, which is, itself, inadmissible.  Because "potential jurors do not appear to understand the link between psychologically coercive interrogation and false confessions," the authors suggest that expert testimony about the effects of coercive interrogations might trigger the jurors' expert bias in a salutary way.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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