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The third type of accountability shows signs of “being experiencers”

A contribution to forensic psychology

The slides and texts below were presented at the 30th International Congress of  Psychology  (25 July, 2012, Cape Town International Convention Centre, Cape Town, South Africa)

Two types of accountability are mentioned in discursive psychology (e.g., Edwards & Potter, 1992). They are criteria of the socio-culturally valid narratives. The first one is about the credibility of contents of narrative and the second one is about the reliability of narrators. They are tacitly applied to the examination of credibility of confession and testimony. But both the types of accountability sometimes malfunction under some conditions. It is often difficult for vulnerable people, e.g., the mentally disables and children, to construct socio-culturally valid narratives and even possible for normal adults to fabricate them. The author proposes the third type of accountability, a cognitive one. It contains signs of real experiencer that appear on forms of remembering. Practical and empirical studies of the author and his colleagues (e.g., Mori, 2008; Ohashi, Mori, Takagi, & Matsushima, 2002) have suggested that normal as well as vulnerable people can show such signs and we can discriminate narratives rooted in real experiences from fake ones according to these signs. Our studies also suggested that these signs can appear on different levels of communication (utterances, question & answer pairs, etc.), in various forms, and peculiar to a rememberer. We are sure that the introduction of the third type of accountability into forensic practice sheds new light on the examination of the credibility of confession and testimony.  

In this decade, I and my colleagues have been working with the credibility of suspects’ or defendants’ confession and eyewitnesses’ testimony. Today’s presentation is based on our empirical studies and practical works. They have been carried out in Japanese police and judicial systems, so you may find some differences among nations. 

‘Accountability’ is a keyword of the presentation. So let’s start from a definition of the term ‘accountability’ in the context of my presentation. 

    ‘Accountability’ is the responsibility of suspects, defendants and witnesses when they are required to accomplish in investigative interview by police and prosecutors or examination in court. They are required to show themselves as experiencers that have experiences to be stated or as persons who have no such experiences. 

    ‘Accountability’ is often used in Japanese judicial system as one of criteria for examining their experiences or their absence.

    When certain statements are considered credible and those who make statements are reliable, suspects, defendants and witnesses have to construct and show their accountability to be experiencers involved in a case at issue or not.  

Edwards & Potter (1992) mentions the two types of accountability. 

    The first one is concerned with the credibility of contents of their statements. Some experiential rules (concreteness, vividness, consistency and so on) and judicial norms are often applied to examine their credibility. In Japanese judicial system, suspects, for example, states their commitment to a crime in ways that they make clear ‘who’ did ‘what’ ‘to whom’, ‘how’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘with whom’ and ‘why’. When they satisfy these requirements, they are recognised to be accountable as suspects.

    The second one is the reliability of persons who state the truth. They need to show their normal personality and mental faculties, and are sometimes requested to explain the inconsistency between their statements and investigative information, or the conflicting transition in their statements. 

    Through accomplishing the second accountability, they show themselves as trustworthy confessing, testifying, or insisting upon their innocence.

As social constructionists and discursive psychologists often emphasise, the accomplishment of accountability is not a genuine cognitive task, but indeed a social action. 

    When suspects, defendants and witnesses state their involvement to a case, they do not simply remembering their past experience in ways they like to talk. Rather they have to explain their experience according to ways the judicial system requires.

    And when they insist their non-participation in a case, they are requested to explain it, often being challenged with several investigative information.

    When we construct the accountability, we have to convert our cognitive product (memory, perception, decision, feeling etc.) into social one (explanation satisfying with social and institutional requirements). 

    But is it possible to know experience of suspects, defendants and witnesses, or their lack of experience,  when such conversion is difficult to achieve? 

    Vulnerable people often get into trouble during such conversion. 

Vulnerable people, such as children, mentally disabled, or mentally handicapped, often have difficulties when they try to convert their cognitive products (what they remember or their sense of innocence) into social products (explanation to accomplish accountability). 

    When they fail to, their statements are not recognised as evidences. Even if they remember their experience as victims or eyewitnesses, or insist upon their innocence, they would not be recognised trustworthy reporters. Rather they might be considered as too confused to understand what they should do because of their mental defect, or telling a lie, or concealing truth.

    Another kind of problems sometimes occurs when normal people undergo such conversion.

    It is possible for them to skillfully construct a narrative on their past even when they have no such experience or their memory of to-be-remembered events had already been blurred. It is sometimes the case that they are not rememberers even when they accomplish the accountability.

    So we can conclude that the accomplishment of accountability is not a good criterion of examining the credibility of what suspects, defendants or eyewitnesses state. The accomplishment of accountability is not necessarily compatible with the credibility of being or not being experiencers of events at issue.

    Do we have to continue to depend on the two types of accountability? Then, we are dealing with this problem.

Referring to our empirical studies and practical works, we are looking for another way to examine the credibility of confession and testimony.

    First of all, we refer to investigative interview and examination in court of a defendant called S, who was alleged to commit to murder. S’ IQ score was about 70. He was recognised to be on the borderline between mentally handicapped and normal. Some details of the case are described on the slide. 

    DNA retesting which proved his innocence tells that his confession was false one and his denial should have been justified. Why was not his truth identified? 

    Probably because his statements were estimated based on the two types of accountability. We can see that especially in interviews by the prosecutor. 

In the prosecutor’s interviews, S was requested to answer reasons why he had falsely confessed to the police. He started to talk about his treatment by the police during the investigation. Although the prosecutor interrupted his talk and pointed out its irrelevance, S said he knew what to talk and went on talking the same kind of story.

    Let’s see the sequence of their communication. 

In other sequence in the interviews, the prosecutor asked why S had admitted his guilt to his lawyer. S mentioned his lack of knowledge on the law but the prosecutor cast doubt on his recognition. Let’s see the sequence.

When S was asked reasons of his behaviour and decision, he frequently described what he really had done and had been treated by others. These confusing communication seemed to be produced by his peculiar attempts to adapt to the situations. But his attempts were never recognised by the prosecutor.

    It is known that vulnerable people are hard to properly answer to why-question. Repetitive reaction patterns of vulnerable people to such difficult situation would tell their attempts to show their truth.

    Then next, we are dealing some problems of the first type of accountability.

S’ confession seemed to satisfy the first type of accountability, so it was accepted by the judges of the district court. But strangely, the victim’s actions scarcely appeared in his confession comparing to his reference to the victim’s figure, posture, and appearance. This was a case of kidnapping, sexual abuse, and murder. The victim’s resistance and counteractions to the criminal’s actions must have happened. Because S admitted his guilt, it is hard to think that S selectively concealed the victim‘s actions.

      S incidentally had chances to talk about his real experiences. For example, ‘domiciliary search in his house by the police’‘his participation to his nephew’s sport games’ that other people knew (witnessed) S really had involved in. Comparing S’ talk of his experiences with his confession, we found some interesting phenomena. 

When S talked about his experience, he strongly tended to alternately mention his own actions and such counteractions as other people's actions or changes of an environment. 

    See on the screen. This is his remembering of the domiciliary search. You can see an agent of actions alternates. This tendency was called 'agent alternation'. 

This ‘agent-alternation’ narrative scarcely appeared in his narrative of his commitment to the case. Instead, his narrative took on the form of 'agent-succession' where he referred to his actions successively. The victim sometimes appeared in his confession, but she was described like an object without autonomy.

    This contrast of narrative styles is not relevant to accomplish the first accountability. But it is possible to show his truth. 

    Experimental evidences are accumulating. Part of studies are presented.

Studies presented here were carried out to compare reports of direct experience with that of indirect one. 

    Direct experience means participants’ contacting experience to environment during their navigation of a university campus. And indirect one means participants’ hearing experience of other’s direct experience of another university campus. Two different reports were compared within each participant. 

Four participants took part in the experiment. Data from two of them are presented, Participant Y’s and K’s.

    This is the Y’s data. On several points, two kinds of reports were different in their forms.

Participant K showed another kind of contrast between the two kinds of reports. 

    When she talked about her direct experiences, her report was often applied ‘human perspective’. In contrast, ‘birds perspective‘ was frequently introduced during her report of her indirect experiences. Participant K expressed differently her movement and time she took during navigation.

    Practical and experimental dada just presented suggests another way to examine the credibility of suspects, defendants, witnesses, which can be called ‘the third type of accountability’. 

Another criterion of the credibility will be proposed. It is different from the first and the second accountability. Peculiar style of defendant S can be thought of as a result of S ’ adaptation to difficult social situations with his limited cognitive faculties. Narrative forms applied by S, Y, and K during remembering can be considered as the reflection of their cognitive states induced by their experience. 

    The first and second accountability are criteria of the appropriate explanation of having experience at issue or not having one. Contrastingly, another one reflects cognitive states of experiencer of events at issue or not being experiencer. The former two are standards of social actions and the latter is cognitive one.  

    People take the responsibility and recognised to take the responsibility of being experiencers or not, even when they fail to accomplish the social construction of accountability. The third type of accountability make it possible to see such responsibility. 

Some implications of the third type of accountability to forensic psychology are listed. I think it can serve new criteria to examine the credibility of confession and testimony as well as denial of commitment to criminal cases.