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The mechanisms of minimization: How interrogation tactics suggest lenient sentencing through pragmatic implication.
Law and Human Behavior  (IF3.795),  Pub Date : 2020-08-01, DOI: 10.1037/lhb0000410
Timothy J Luke,Fabiana Alceste

Objective: Minimization is a legal interrogation tactic in which an interrogator attempts to decrease a suspect's resistance to confessing by, for example, downplaying the seriousness of the crime. These studies examined the extent to which minimization pragmatically implies that a suspect will receive a more lenient sentence in exchange for a confession. Hypotheses: Generally, we predicted that participants who read an interrogation with a minimization theme or a direct promise of leniency would mistakenly expect more lenient sentences compared with a control condition if the suspect confessed to the crime. Hypotheses were preregistered prior to conducting each experiment. Method: In 6 experiments (Ns = 413, 574, 496, 552, 489, 839), MTurkers read an interrogation transcript in which the suspect was (a) promised leniency, (b) subjected to minimization, or (c) questioned about the evidence (control). We tested whether warnings about direct promises and minimization induced people to adjust their expectations of sentence severity and also whether a warning could help people better calibrate their sentencing expectations. Results: Moral minimization techniques decreased sentencing expectations after a confession (d = 0.34), by influencing the perceived severity of the crime (d = 0.40). Honesty themes, similar to illegal direct promises, led participants to infer that leniency would be forthcoming in exchange for a confession (d = 0.60). Warnings about leniency repaired sentencing expectations when participants read an interrogation with a direct promise, but were ineffective when an interrogator used minimization. Conclusions: Contrary to the beliefs of American courts, which have allowed minimization but not direct promises to be used in interrogations, minimization does indeed impact sentencing expectations. There may be cause to review the legality of such tactics. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).