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Canadian Justice System - Civil law

- One party brings a complaint against another for violating the former’s rights in some way


Canadian Justice System - Criminal law

- Person commits a crime and is arrested. The crown attorney decides if there is enough evidence to press formal charges
- Defense attorneys and prosecutors negotiate – 25% of cases go to trial


All steps in the legal process involve social psychology phenomena, such as:

- First impressions; as a juror, as police officers interviewing, witnesses
- Attributions; attributing cause to personality rather than circumstances
- Attitude change and persuasion; controlled vs automatic processing
- Schemas
- Prejudice


Eyewitness Testimony

o Juries rely heavily on eyewitness testimony
o Accuracy of eye-witness identification depends on viewing conditions when the crime was committed
o Most jurors believe witnesses can correctly identify the criminal, even when viewing conditions are poor
o STUDY: Wells et al. (1998)
- Examined 40 cases in which DNA obtained after conviction showed person was innocent
- In 36 cases, eyewitnesses had put the person at the scene of the crime


Accuracy of eyewitness relies on memory processing; 3 stages

- Acquisition
- Storage
- Retrieval
...There are sources of error at each of the three levels



o Process by which people notice and pay attention to information in the environment
o People can acquire only a subset of the information available in the environment
o Witnesses overestimate the length of time an event takes place
o Study: review of RCMP fraud and robbery crimes
- Looked at 3 characteristics of perpetrator: facial hair, hair colour, line-up
- Eyewitness were really good at telling if had facial hair; victim was basically chance
- Chance for all other categories…
- Victim; stress and fear therefore visual and attentional field narrowed so we’re processing less…same for witness, but not at same level of victim
o Accuracy decreased when weapon is present
o Victims focus more on weapon than on physical features of perpetrator
o When gun involved, accuracy goes way down
o Accuracy influence by: time, viewing conditions and victim
o We notice what fits our schema – remember familiar things more readily than unfamiliar things
- Better at recognizing faces from our own race: own race bias (or more contact with…)



o Process by which people hold in memory the information they have acquired from the environment
o Reconstructive memory: memories for an event become distorted by information encountered after the event has occurred
o Source errors – start to forget where you got the information from
o Even the way the questions are phrased can mislead us



o Process by which stored information is brought forward
o Accuracy better with a 6-person lineup than on an individual basis
- Tendency to choose person who most resembles the perp, even if resemblance is small
- People who “know” right away tend to be more correct that those who need to compare faces
- Accuracy decreased when required to put what you’ve seen into words – forced to focus on specific details rather than big picture


Ways to improve lineup results

- Have everyone resemble the perp
- Tell witness the perp may or not be in lineup
- Don’t include perp in 1st lineup
- Have a “blind” lineup
- Have visual and auditory info available
- Minimize time b/w witnessing event and lineup


Witness confidence

o People are more apt to believe witnesses who are confident about what they saw
BUT; a witness’ confidence is not strongly related to his or her accuracy; r=0.24


Detecting lies

- No one is better than another at detecting lies (people often think authority figures are good at that, but they have chance levels)
- Lie detectors are not that accurate; not admissible in Canadian courts


Improving eyewitness testimony - hypnosis

- studies show it just boosts confidence not accuracy


Improving eyewitness testimony - recovered memories

- Recollections of an event, such as sexual abuse, that have been forgotten or repressed
- Can lead to false memory syndrome: remembering a past traumatic experience that is objectively false but nevertheless accepted as true


Expert Testimony

- important influence on jurors
- Canadian courts have moved away from this...claiming that experts (especially psychologists) only offer common sense


Physical evidence

- Footprints, fingerprints, samples of hair, or fibers, DNA, inconsistencies in time and place are scrutinized when crimes occur
- BUT....eyewitness testimony still trumps this



- Only understand about 60% of instructions they are given
- Jurors are sometimes biased by pretrial publicity, even when they consciously try not to be
- Emotional publicity that arouses public passions, such as lurid details about a murder, creates the most bias
- During the trial jurors attempt to make sense of the testimony, and often decide on one story that explains most of the evidence
- Then they try to fit the story to the possible verdicts they are allowed to render
- If one of the verdicts fits their preferred story, they are likely to vote to convict on that charge


Two ways to present evidence

- Story order: evidence is presented in the sequence in which events occurred
- Witness order: witnesses are presented in the sequence they think will have the greatest impact
- Story is most influential


Jurors - during deliberations

- Jurors with minority views are often pressured into conforming to the view of the majority
- Dissenters may not sway the verdict but can reduce the severity of the penalty


Deterrence theory

People refrain from criminal activity because of the threat of legal punishment, as long as the punishment is perceived as:
- relatively severe
- swift
- certain


Procedural justice

- More likely to obey the law if sense of procedural justice is high – believe that procedures used to determine guilt or innocence are fair