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

filozinni on August 20, 2020

Why is B correct and D wrong?

Could anyone please explain why D is wrong? Other people in previous threads have asked the same thing but no one ever addressed the question. Thank you !

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alicat6 on August 23, 2020

I am also curious as to why D is wrong and why B is a better answer. I was stuck choosing between those two!

Victoria on September 5, 2020

Hi @filozinni and @alicat6,

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.

On the other hand, answer choice (D) is incorrect because it is focused on the supposed "traditional legal arguments" which are offered in support of permitting the testimony of cooperating witnesses. While the passage does outline studies which cast doubt on allowing this testimony, it does not outline legal arguments, nor their underlying assumptions, which are supposedly offered in support of allowing this testimony. The only thing we learn about the courts' support for cooperating witness testimony is that they believe that there are adequate safeguards in place to protect accused individuals against convictions based on false testimony. This is a single legal argument which is based on one (not a set of) extended assumption i.e. that effective cross-examination allows jurors to consider a witness' motivations and that such consideration is sufficient to protect accused individuals.

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