Changing your alibi: Current law enforcement, future law enforcement, and layperson beliefs and behaviors

Scott Edward Culhane, University of Texas at El Paso


The purpose of these two experiments was to explore beliefs about and behaviors toward criminal suspects who changed or maintained their alibi statements. Little research has been conducted examining alibis. Indeed, only one project has ever tested the frequency with which alibi statements are changed and no empirical studies have examined the impact of changes made to an alibi. Participants in two experiments included current law enforcement officers, criminal justice and psychology undergraduate students who intended to enter law enforcement (future law enforcement officers), and students who did not intend to do so (laypersons). Participants in Experiment 1 completed a series of questionnaires including the Alibi Belief Questionnaire (Culhane & Hosch, 2005), measures of personality traits such as authoritarianism, legal authoritarianism, and social dominance, and a measure of interrogation technique endorsement. More importantly, a form was also included asking participants to judge nine potential alibi statements. Some of those alibi statements were changed (strengthened or weakened) and some were maintained. The statements also included a variety of alibi witnesses who were either motivated to protect the suspect/defendant for some reason, or unmotivated. Results from the Experiment 1 showed that all groups had more favorable beliefs about those alibi statements which were maintained than those that were changed, even those that were changed for the better (e.g. changing from no alibi witness to having an alibi witness). The interrogation practice endorsement measure showed that approval of aggressive interrogation techniques as an acceptable practice was minimal for all groups. Correlations among the personality measures and alibi judgments were as expected. In Experiment 2 participants read a series of nine interrogation transcripts that corresponded to the alibi statements in Experiment 1. Behaviorally, participants also responded more favorably to suspects whose alibi statements were consistent. Participants were less prone to judge the suspect who maintained his alibi statement as being guilty and as less likely to have committed the crime. The significant statistical tests in both experiments indicated that a motivated witness was viewed with greater skepticism than an unmotivated witness. Implications for this research and future directions for alibi research are discussed.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Psychology|Experiments|Criminology

Recommended Citation

Culhane, Scott Edward, "Changing your alibi: Current law enforcement, future law enforcement, and layperson beliefs and behaviors" (2005). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3167942.