Court / justice / wrongful conviction

A Guilty Look

An article in today’s Toronto Star entitled:  The Fallacy of Lying Eyes and Guileless Smiles talks about how demeanor is often used by judges and juries to determine guilt or innocence, with disastrous consequences.   Excerpt below. To read the full article, click on the title above.


“It is a task so basic to the legal process, figuring out who’s telling the truth and who is not. It has also long been opaque to scientists, who have yet to find an infallible method of reading deception — shows such as Lie To Me that dramatize easy lie detection notwithstanding.

Courtroom scenes in Hollywood movies still routinely show guilty people sweating profusely, averting their gaze or furrowing their brows in anger, bolstering the widespread conviction that lies are written on our faces.

In the beginning, this was supported by legal theory, says former judge George M. Thomson, but not anymore.

“If you go back to when I was a judge, there was a generally accepted view that demeanour played a large role, that you could look at the way someone looked or the way they testified and draw conclusions about whether they’re telling the truth or not,” says Thomson, who is senior director of the National Judicial Institute, a body that educates other judges. “The last 20 years have very much challenged that. It’s now recognized that it can be very risky to rely on demeanour.”

The problem is far from adequately acknowledged in Canada’s courtrooms, however, say researchers.

Porter points to several high-profile wrongful convictions in Canada — including those of Donald Marshall Jr., David Milgaard and Guy Paul Morin — that show prosecutors, police and juries had tunnel vision when it came to weighing evidence that conflicted with their first impressions of suspects.”


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