In Doubt: The Psychology of the Criminal Justice Process

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Overview

The criminal justice process is unavoidably human. Police detectives, witnesses, suspects, and victims shape the course of investigations, while prosecutors, defense attorneys, jurors, and judges affect the outcome of adjudication. In this sweeping review of psychological research, Dan Simon shows how flawed investigations can produce erroneous evidence and why well-meaning juries send innocent people to prison and set the guilty free.

The investigator’s task is genuinely difficult and prone to bias. This often leads investigators to draw faulty conclusions, assess suspects’ truthfulness incorrectly, and conduct coercive interrogations that can lead to false confessions. Eyewitnesses’ identification of perpetrators and detailed recollections of criminal events rely on cognitive processes that are often mistaken and can easily be skewed by the investigative procedures used. In the courtroom, jurors and judges are ill-equipped to assess the accuracy of testimony, especially in the face of the heavy-handed rhetoric and strong emotions that crimes arouse.

Simon offers an array of feasible ways to improve the accuracy of criminal investigations and trials. While the limitations of human cognition will always be an obstacle, these reforms can enhance the criminal justice system’s ability to decide correctly whom to release and whom to punish.

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Editorial Reviews

New Scientist

Dan Simon puts the criminal justice system on trial, revealing the many flaws in how it operates. In his comprehensive look at the underlying cognitive science, he highlights the many potential pitfalls that might trip up the people involved at each stage of the judicial process. Simon shows, for example, how police investigations can be skewed by biases, how interrogation techniques can promote false confessions and how eyewitnesses can wrongly identify criminal suspects. He also analyses case studies of criminal investigations, laying out recommendations for how they could be improved. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the book is devoted to memory, which plays a central role in criminal investigations but is also the biggest source of potential errors. Simon tells how psychologist Frederic Bartlett's work in the 1920s showed that our memories are highly error-prone, and how, more recently, cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown that memory can be influenced, unintentionally or otherwise, by leading questions and other techniques. If In Doubt leaves you certain of anything, it is that assessing guilt should not be left to memory alone.
— Moheb Costandi

Elizabeth Loftus
Dan Simon has a superb command of the research in cognitive science, and how it affects the very real world of the criminal justice process. In Doubt shows how universal fallacies in reasoning and blind spots in perception and memory can send innocent people to prison and let guilty ones walk free, and promotes reforms to make the system more truly just.
Robert J. Maccoun
In this important book, Dan Simon appraises a now-sizeable body of evidence that our criminal justice procedures are highly prone to serious error. This isn't an ideological indictment; Simon 's book ought to disturb the conscience of anyone who believes that truth should matter in a just society.
Carol Steiker
In the past few decades, DNA evidence has starkly revealed how prone to error our criminal justice system can be, even in seemingly "airtight" cases. Now Dan Simon has brought the latest in psychological research to bear in order to explain some of the root causes of these disturbing failures and to point the way to solutions. This book is, by turns, terrifying, learned, and persuasive—sure to be of interest to scholars, policy-makers, and anyone concerned about the reliability of our criminal processes.
Dan Kahan
Simon has pulled off an impressive intellectual feat: a synthesis of ideas that points the way to critical legal reforms at the same time that it advances scholarly understanding of cognition. We can learn a lot from his book—both about how the mind works and about how the criminal justice system can be made to work better.
Albert W. Alschuler
Experimental psychology can teach us lots of non-obvious and important things about the criminal justice system, and here they all are in one really great read. Dan Simon not only elegantly summarizes hundreds of studies but makes them vivid. In Doubt is a triumph of broad knowledge, good sense, and great literary skill.
Chris Slobogin
In this unique and timely book, Dan Simon brings together an enormous body of social science research to argue compellingly that even when everyone is acting in good faith, we cannot count on the accuracy of witnesses, confessions, police and prosecutorial charging decisions, jury verdicts, and appellate court decisions. At each step of the criminal justice process, common errors in perception, memory, and judgment, often caused by unrecognized bias, can distort legal outcomes. Everyone involved in the criminal justice system should absorb In Doubt's disquieting message and its prescriptions for minimizing accidental injustices.
Keith Findley
What an incredible work! It's insightful, thoughtful, and remarkably rich and complete in its compilation of the research. This will be an essential book for anyone working in this field.
New Scientist - Moheb Costandi
Dan Simon puts the criminal justice system on trial, revealing the many flaws in how it operates. In his comprehensive look at the underlying cognitive science, he highlights the many potential pitfalls that might trip up the people involved at each stage of the judicial process. Simon shows, for example, how police investigations can be skewed by biases, how interrogation techniques can promote false confessions and how eyewitnesses can wrongly identify criminal suspects. He also analyses case studies of criminal investigations, laying out recommendations for how they could be improved. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the book is devoted to memory, which plays a central role in criminal investigations but is also the biggest source of potential errors. Simon tells how psychologist Frederic Bartlett's work in the 1920s showed that our memories are highly error-prone, and how, more recently, cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has shown that memory can be influenced, unintentionally or otherwise, by leading questions and other techniques. If In Doubt leaves you certain of anything, it is that assessing guilt should not be left to memory alone.
Choice - W. P. Anderson
Offers an intensive investigation of the psychological defects that result in false convictions and false acquittals.
Robert J. MacCoun
In this important book, Dan Simon appraises a now-sizeable body of evidence that our criminal justice procedures are highly prone to serious error. This isn't an ideological indictment; Simon 's book ought to disturb the conscience of anyone who believes that truth should matter in a just society.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674046153
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/20/2012
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 277,600
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Simon is Professor of Law and Psychology at the University of Southern California.
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Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1

2 "We're Closing In on Him": Investigation Dynamics 17

3 "Officer, That's Him!": Eyewitness Identification of Perpetrators 50

4 "Officer, That's What Happened": Eyewitness Memory for the Criminal Event 90

5 "Just Admit It, You're Guilty": Interrogating Suspects 120

6 "We Find the Defendant Guilty": Fact-Finding at Trial 144

7 "Bolting Out the Truth": The Trial's Fact-Finding Mechanisms 180

8 Toward Accuracy 206

Notes 225

Acknowledgments 387

Index 389

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