The pervasiveness of smartphones in recent years has created a culture in which we all have the ability to snap a photo or record an event instantaneously. Editing apps have made it easy for us to alter or otherwise manipulate our content to create a certain impression.
But modifications made to digital content are not the only things that can influence a viewer’s perception of reality. Camera angle can also have a significant impact. As a recent study demonstrates, the position of a camera in a police interrogation video can affect whether a jury deems a confession to be voluntary or forced.
Social scientists recently conducted a study in which participants viewed video footage of a criminal suspect confessing to a crime during a police interrogation. In one case, the video depicted both the suspect and officer facing each other, with the camera stationed to their side. In the second scenario, the camera was positioned behind the interrogating officer, so that the face of the suspect was visible, but the viewer could only see the back of the officer’s head.
The study found that when participants couldn’t see the face and body language of the officer, they were more likely to interpret the suspect’s confession as voluntary – even when the audio content indicated that the officer was threatening or coercing the suspect. This phenomenon is called camera perspective bias.
Implications on trial outcome
Camera perspective bias can have devastating consequences on an innocent suspect who is coerced into making a false statement. Of the more than 300 innocent people exonerated through the Innocence Project’s DNA evidence investigation, around one quarter of them had been pressured into making a false confession or other incriminating testimony on video.
Thus, camera perspective bias has the potential to lead to wrongful convictions. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands this phenomenon can also use it to their advantage – to reverse a jury’s perception.