Putting the Mr. Big technique back on trial : a re-examination of probative value and abuse of process through a scientific lens

Luther, Kirk and Snook, Brent (2016) Putting the Mr. Big technique back on trial : a re-examination of probative value and abuse of process through a scientific lens. British Journal of Forensic Practice, 18 (2). pp. 131-142. ISSN 2050-8794

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Purpose – A recent Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruling resulted in stricter rules being placed on how police organizations can obtain confessions through a controversial undercover operation, known as the Mr. Big technique. The SCC placed the onus on prosecutors to demonstrate that the probative value of any Mr. Big derived confession outweighs its prejudicial effect, and that the police must refrain from an abuse of process (i.e. avoid overcoming the will of the accused to obtain a confession). The purpose of this paper is to determine whether a consideration of the social influence tactics present in the Mr. Big technique would deem Mr. Big confessions inadmissible. Design/methodology/approach – The social psychological literature related to the compliance and the six main principles of social influence (i.e. reciprocity, consistency, liking, social proof, authority, scarcity) was reviewed. The extent to which these social influence principles are arguably present in Mr. Big operations are discussed. Findings – Mr. Big operations, by their very nature, create unfavourable circumstances for the accused that are rife with psychological pressure to comply and ultimately confess. A consideration by the SCC of the social influence tactics used to elicit confessions – because such tactics sully the circumstances preceding confessions and verge on abuse of process – should lead to all Mr. Big operations being prohibited. Practical implications – Concerns regarding the level of compliance in the Mr. Big technique call into question how Mr. Big operations violate the guidelines set out by the SCC ruling. The findings from the current paper could have a potential impact of the admissibility of Mr. Big confessions, along with continued use of this controversial technique. Originality/value – The current paper represents the first in-depth analysis of the Mr. Big technique through a social psychological lens.

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Journal Article
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British Journal of Forensic Practice
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This article is (c)2016 Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here. Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
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24 Jan 2017 14:20
Last Modified:
09 Jun 2024 23:49