Dangerous decisions: A theoretical framework for understanding how judges assess credibility in the courtroom
Article first published online: 10 JAN 2011
2009 The British Psychological Society
Legal and Criminological Psychology
Volume 14, Issue 1, pages 119–134, February 2009
How to Cite
Porter, S. and ten Brinke, L. (2009), Dangerous decisions: A theoretical framework for understanding how judges assess credibility in the courtroom. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 14: 119–134. doi: 10.1348/135532508X281520
- Issue published online: 10 JAN 2011
- Article first published online: 10 JAN 2011
- Received 30 July 2007; revised version received 14 January 2008
Purpose. Numerous wrongful convictions have brought into question the ability of judges and juries to accurately evaluate the credibility of witnesses, including defendants. Dangerous decisions theory (DDT) offers a theoretical framework to build our understanding of the decision-making process that can culminate in such injustices.
Arguments. According to DDT, the reading of a defendant's face and emotional expressions play a major role in initiating a series of ‘dangerous’ decisions concerning his/her credibility. Specifically, potent judgments of trustworthiness occur rapidly upon seeing a defendant's face, subjectively experienced as intuition. Originally evolved to reduce the danger to the observer, the initial judgment – which may be unreliable – will be enduring and have a powerful influence on the interpretation and assimilation of incoming evidence concerning the defendant. Ensuing inferences will be irrational, but rationalized by the decision maker through his/her subjective schemas about trustworthiness and heuristics for identifying deceptive behaviour. Facilitated by a high level of motivation, a non-critical, tunnel vision assimilation of potentially disconfirming or ambiguous target information can culminate in a mistaken evaluation of guilt or innocence.
Conclusions. Empirically based education and responsible expert testimony could serve to reduce such biases and improve legal decision-making.