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Context Matters: Alibi Strength Varies According to Evaluator Perspective

NCJ Number
Legal and Criminological Psychology Volume: 12 Issue: 1 Dated: February 2007 Pages: 41-54
Samuel R. Sommers; Amy Bradfield Douglas
Date Published
February 2007
14 pages
Two experiments tested the hypothesis that the same alibi offered by a suspect/defendant might be assessed differently depending on whether it was assessed in the context of a police investigation or a criminal trial.
Across the two studies, the same alibi was rated stronger (more likely to be accepted as true by the evaluator) in the context of a police investigation compared with its assessment in the course of a trial. This suggests that because the case has proceeded to trial, those who assess the defendant's alibi in the trial context come with the predisposition to believe that the alibi must be weak. Otherwise, the case would not have been brought to trial. In the second study, an alibi was considered stronger when it was corroborated by evidence of its truthfulness compared to the absence of corroborating evidence; however, this difference was significant only in the context of the police investigation. These findings have implications for alibi research, because they suggest that two researchers who are studying assessments of the same alibi may come to different conclusions based on the framing of the context of the study. In the first study, 101 college students evaluated the strength of an alibi in 1 of 3 contexts: a police investigation, a criminal trial, or a control condition that did not indicate any legal context for the alibi. Dependent measures included ratings of alibi strength and credibility, as well as the likelihood that the suspect was guilty. In the second study, both context (investigation or trial) and the presence of a corroborating witness were varied in a scenario presented to 139 college students. 1 table and 38 references


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