Department of Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York Graduate Center.
In Arizona v. Fulminante (1991), the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for appellate judges to conduct a harmless error analysis of erroneously admitted, coerced confessions. In this study, 132 judges from three states read a murder case summary, evaluated the defendant's guilt, assessed the voluntariness of his confession, and responded to implicit and explicit measures of harmless error. Results indicated that judges found a high-pressure confession to be coerced and hence improperly admitted into evidence. As in studies with mock jurors, however, the improper confession significantly increased their conviction rate in the absence of other evidence. On the harmless error measures, judges successfully overruled the confession when required to do so, indicating that they are capable of this analysis.