Which one of the following most accurately expresses the main point of the passage?

kassidee on May 6, 2020

Difference between b and c?

Is the difference the fact that c is just talking about confessions in general, not specifically those mad by witnesses who have an incentive?

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shafieiava on May 31, 2020

I would also like an explanation of answer choices B and C.

Victoria on September 5, 2020

Hi @kassidee and @shafieiava,

Happy to help!

Let's start by going through the passage.

The first paragraph tells us that criminal courts frequently rely on accomplice witnesses and jailhouse informants (collectively "cooperating witnesses") for prosecutorial information. This testimony includes information which the witness obtained through conversation with the accused and can include a purported confession.

The second paragraph tells us that cooperating witnesses are often offered some sort of incentive for their testimony. This can induce the cooperating witness to fabricate evidence. The author then cites a study which found that lying informants are rarely prosecuted. This means that there is much to gain and little to lose by providing false testimony.

The third paragraph tells us that courts are aware of the inherent unreliability of these testimonies, but they have held that there are adequate safeguards which allow effective cross-examination to protect accused individuals from being convicted on the basis of false testimony. The author argues that these safeguards are not always adequate because situations where the prosecutor merely implies that a witness will receive an incentive (as compared to explicitly offering an incentive) do not have to be disclosed to the jury.

The fourth paragraph cites psychological research which suggests that jurors "give undue weight to confession evidence when rendering guilt decisions." The author argues that this is highly relevant in the case of cooperating witnesses because the jury may fail to account for the effect that an incentive can have on someone's behaviour.

Finally, the fifth paragraph offers an explanation for jurors' superficial examination of confession evidence. Studies have shown that people often explain other people's behaviour in terms of internal factors as opposed to external, or situational, factors. One example of such a study found that jurors viewed a confession (regardless of whether it was obtained using negative or positive pressure) as evidence regarding the defendant's guilt because "only a guilty person would confess to such a crime." The author concludes the passage by applying the results of this study to cooperating witnesses i.e. jurors may disregard the external factors which made it beneficial for the cooperating witness to give their testimony.

Answer choice (B) is correct because it encompasses all the information outlined above. The first two paragraphs introduce us to the practices surrounding cooperating witnesses. The third paragraph tells us that courts tend to rely on cooperating witnesses' testimony. The third, fourth, and fifth paragraphs cite studies, psychological phenomena, and situational factors (i.e. "numerous considerations") which increase the likelihood of an accused individual being convicted on the basis of false testimony.

@kassidee, you are correct! Answer choice (C) is incorrect because it does not cover the majority of the passage. While the author does cite studies which show that jurors give undue weight to confession testimony, this answer choice does not connect these studies to cooperating witnesses nor to the context in which such witnesses are incentivized to provide confession testimony.

Hope this is helpful! Please let us know if you have any further questions.