A suspect facing criminal charges may plead guilty for any number of reasons. Sometimes, it may make more sense to accept a plea deal rather than go to trial – and risk a high sentence. Other times, suspects may actually be coerced into giving a false confession by a police officer.
This may sound like something that only happens in the movies, but it’s actually more common than you might expect. The Innocence Project – a nonprofit organization dedicated to exonerating wrongly convicted individuals – reports that of all the people they were able to retroactively acquit using DNA evidence, around 25% had been forced into giving false or self-incriminating statements during police interrogation.
How could this happen?
Neuroscience teaches us that our brains have many built-in biases – which can often work against us. One of these is called experience bias. This bias stems from an unconscious belief that we see things as they are, and what we see is an accurate and objective representation of reality. The truth, however, is that perspective can have a clouding influence on perception.
A recent study examined how the position of a camera in filmed police interrogations can affect jurors’ perception of confessions. It found that when the camera was angled to the side of both participants – with the side profile and bodies of both the officer and suspect in view – participants were more likely to notice any verbal or physical signals that the police officer was coercing the subject into making a statement.
However, when the camera was positioned behind the police officer and only provided a full, head-on view of the suspect, participants were more likely to view any confession as voluntary. This was true even when the video contained audible indications of coercion from the interrogating officer. This phenomenon is known as camera perspective bias.
How to combat bias in court
In a trial setting, unconscious juror bias has the power to determine your future. However, working with a lawyer who understands how camera perspective bias works can be extremely advantageous. For instance, your lawyer may be able to exclude evidence that might bias a jury from being used in court. Alternatively, they could demonstrate for the jury how perspective can change perception. Being able to approach your case both objectively and subjectively can be a game changer in its outcome.