In Doubt

In Doubt

The Psychology of the Criminal Justice Process

eBook - 2012
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Harvard University Press

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.


Criminal justice is unavoidably human. Detectives, witnesses, suspects, and victims shape investigations; prosecutors, defense attorneys, jurors, and judges affect the outcome of adjudication. Simon shows how flawed investigations produce erroneous evidence and why well-meaning juries send innocent people to prison and set the guilty free.

Book News
Simon (law and psychology, U. of Southern California) considers how the psychology of actors in the criminal justice process--witnesses, detectives and other police officers, suspects, lawyers, judges and jurors--affects its efficacy. He advances two theses, first, that evidence gained in the investigative phase is fraught with both accuracy and inaccuracy, and second, that the adjudication phase is not well suited to determine accuracy of evidence and thereby a defendant's guilt. He explores how conditions that lead police investigations to draw mistaken conclusions or otherwise produce bad evidence, the psychology of suspect identification, witness' memories, suspect interrogation, and the fact-finding mechanisms of a trial. A final chapter, after considering the inadequacies of the criminal justice process as a whole, presents suggestions for systemic improvements. Nearly half the book is comprised of end-notes with citations and additional commentary. Annotation ©2012 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Publisher: Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2012
ISBN: 9780674065116
0674065115
0674046153
9780674046153
Characteristics: 1 online resource (416 pages)
Additional Contributors: Bartels, Larry M. 1956-

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