False admissions of guilt associated with wrongful convictions undermine people's perceptions of exonerees

Kyle C. Scherr, Christopher J. Normile, Samantha Luna, Allison D. Redlich, Megan Lawrence, Mary Catlin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Exonerees are stigmatized, especially those who have falsely confessed. False confessions prompt a series of negative perceptions that ultimately undermine people's willingness to support reintegration aids. We extended the nascent body of literature on exoneree stigma by exploring first whether false guilty pleas can precipitate a similar series of perceptions and judgments and, second, the role of exoneree responsibility as an underlying mechanism. Participants (N = 290) were randomly assigned to read 1 of 4 news stories in which the exoneree falsely confessed, falsely pleaded guilty, both, or neither and then offered their perceptions and judgments of the exoneree. Unique main effects, but not an interaction, among exonerees who falsely confessed or falsely pleaded guilty were observed. These exonerees were seen as less intelligent, which was associated with beliefs that the exoneree suffered mental health issues, was more responsible for the wrongful conviction, and not entirely innocent. The series of appraisals culminated in judgments that exonerees who falsely admitted guilt were less deserving of reintegration support than exonerees who did not falsely admit guilt. We end with discussions of how the results advance our understanding of the basic stigma against exonerees and practical implications for innocents in the legal system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-244
Number of pages12
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Exonerees
  • False confessions
  • False guilty pleas
  • Stigma-by-association
  • Wrongful convictions


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