Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 166–175 | Cite as

Securing the Admissibility of Witness Statements: Estimating the Complexity and Comprehension of Canadian “KGB Warnings”

  • Kirk Luther
  • Brent Snook
  • Sarah MacDonald
  • Todd Barron


The reading complexity of a sample of Canadian “KGB warnings” was assessed, along with the oral comprehension of one of those warnings. In Study 1, the complexity of 29 warnings was assessed using five readability measures. Results showed that the warnings are lengthy, are written at a high-grade level, contain complex sentences, and contain words used infrequently in our everyday language. In Study 2, university students (N = 80) viewed a video of an individual reading the warning aloud in its entirety (Full) or in four sections (Chunked), and comprehension was assessed using recall and recognition measures. Results showed that, when collapsed across the two conditions, participants tended to comprehend less than half of the contents of the warning. Presenting the warning in chunks produced higher levels of comprehension. The likelihood of witnesses understanding the content and consequences of the KGB warning are discussed.


police special warning KGB reading complexity comprehension 


Author Note

We would like to thank Kathy Keating and Randon Slaney with the recruitment of participants for Study 2. We would like to thank all of the police organizations that supplied us with a copy of their current KGB warning and the anonymous reviewers for their constructive feedback.

Research support was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to the first, second, and third authors.


  1. Abramovitch R, Peterson-Badali M, Rohan M (1995) Young people's understanding and assertion of their rights to silence and legal counsel. Canadian Journal of Criminology 37:1–18Google Scholar
  2. Baddeley A (1994) The magical number seven: Still magic after all these years? Psychological Review 101:353–356. doi: 10.1037//0033-295X.101.2.353 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Brysbaert M, New B (2009) Moving beyond Kucera and Francis: A critical evaluation of current word frequency norms and the introduction of a new and improved word frequency measure for American English. Behavior Research Methods 41:977–990. doi: 10.3758/BRM.41.4.977 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Chaulk SJ, Eastwood J, Snook B (2013) Measuring and predicting police caution comprehension in adult offenders. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice. doi: 10.3138/CJCCJ.2013.E02 Google Scholar
  5. Cohen J (1960) A coefficient of agreement for nominal scales. Educational and Psychological Experiment 20:37–46. doi: 10.1177/001316446002000104 Google Scholar
  6. Davidson RA (2005) Analysis of the complexity of writing used in account textbook over the past 100 years. Accounting Education: An International Journal 14:53–74. doi: 10.1080/09639280410001695241 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Davis K, Fitzsimmons C, Moore T (2011) Improving the comprehensibility of a Canadian police caution on the right to silence. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology 26:87–99. doi: 10.1007/s11896-011-9086-y CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Day RS (2006) Comprehension of Prescription Drug Information: Overview of a Research Program. In AAAI Spring Symposium: Argumentation for Consumers of Healthcare (pp. 24-33)Google Scholar
  9. DuBay WH (2004) The principles of readability. Impact Information, Costa Mesa, CAGoogle Scholar
  10. Eastwood J, Snook B (2009) Comprehending Canadian police cautions: Are the rights to silence and legal counsel understandable? Behavioral Sciences and the Law 28:366–377. doi: 10.1002/bsl.898 Google Scholar
  11. Eastwood J, Snook B, Chaulk S (2010) Measuring reading complexity and listening comprehension of Canadian police cautions. Criminal Justice and Behaviour 37:453–471. doi: 10.1177/0093854810362053 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Eastwood J, Snook B (2012) The effect of listenability factors on the comprehension of police cautions. Law Hum Behav 36:117–183. doi: 10.1007/s10979-011-9275-3
  13. Eastwood J, Snook B, Luther K (2012) What people want from their professionals: Attitudes toward decision making strategies. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 25:458–468. doi: 10.1002/bdm.741 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fitzsimmons PR, Michael BD, Hulley JL, Scott GO (2010) A readability assessment of online Parkinson's disease information. The Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 40:292–296. doi: 10.4997/JRCPE.2010.401 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Fenner S, Gudjonsson GH, Clare IH (2002) Understanding of the current police caution (England and Wales) among suspects in police detention. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology 12:83–93. doi: 10.1002/casp.658 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Flesch R (1950) Measuring the level of abstraction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 34:384–390. doi: 10.1037/h0058980 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Freedman S, Eastwood J, Snook B, Luther K (2014) Safeguarding youth interrogation rights: The effect of grade level and reading complexity of youth waiver forms on the comprehension of legal rights. Applied Cognitive Psychology. doi: 10.1002/acp.3001 Google Scholar
  18. Gobet F, Lane PC, Croker S, Cheng PC, Jones G, Oliver I, Pine JM (2001) Chunking mechanisms in human learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 5:236–243. doi: 10.1016/S1364-6613(00)01662-4 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Grisso T (1981) Juveniles’ waiver of rights: Legal and psychological competence. Plenum, New York, NYCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Landis JB, Koch GG (1977) The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics 33:159–174. doi: 10.2307/2529310 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Luther K, Snook B, Luther E (in press) Mesure de la complexité de lecture des formulaires de déclaration et renonciation aux droits pour adolescents québécois. Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice pénale Google Scholar
  22. McLaughlin GH (1969) SMOG grading: A new readability formula. Journal of Reading 12:639–646Google Scholar
  23. McLachlan K, Roesch R, Douglas KS (2011) Examining the role of interrogative suggestibility in Miranda rights comprehension in adolescents. Law and Human Behavior 35:165–177. doi: 10.1007/s10979-009-9198-4 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Miller GA (1956) The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review 63:81–97. doi: 10.1037//0033-295X.101.2.343 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Moore TE, Gagnier K (2008) “You can talk if you want to”: Is the police caution on the ‘right to silence’ understandable? Criminal Reports 51:233–249Google Scholar
  26. Muirhead JE, Rhodes R (1998) Literacy level of Canadian federal offenders. Journal of Correctional Education 49:59–60Google Scholar
  27. Paasche-Orlow MK, Taylor HA, Brancati FL (2003) Readability standard for informed-consent forms as compared with actual readability. New England Journal of Medicine 348:721–727. doi: 10.1056/NEJMsa021212 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Rogers R (2008) A little knowledge is a dangerous thing… Emerging Miranda research and professional roles for psychologists. American Psychologist 63:776–787. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.63.8.776 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Rogers R, Blackwood HL, Fiduccia CE, Steadham JA, Drogin EY, Rogstad JE (2012) Juvenile Miranda Warnings Perfunctory Rituals or Procedural Safeguards? Criminal Justice and Behavior 39:229–249. doi: 10.1177/0093854811431934 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rogers R, Harrison KS, Shuman DW, Sewell KW, Hazelwood LL (2007) An analysis of Miranda warnings and waivers: Comprehension and coverage. Law and Human Behavior 31:177–192. doi: 10.1007/s10979-006-9054-8 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Rogers R, Hazelwood LL, Sewell KW, Harrison KS, Shuman DW (2008a) The Language of Miranda Warnings in American Jurisdictions. Law and Human Behavior 32:124–136. doi: 10.1007/s10979-007-9091-y CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Rogers R, Hazelwood LL, Sewell KW, Shuman DW, Blackwood HL (2008b) The comprehensibility and content of juvenile Miranda warnings. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 14:63. doi: 10.1037/a0013102 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Rubin DL (1987) Divergence and convergence between oral and written communication. Topics in Language Disorders 7:1–18. doi: 10.1097/00011363-198709000-00003 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. R. v. B. (K.G.), 1 S.C.R. 740 (1993)Google Scholar
  35. Smith JL, Haggerty J (2003) Literacy in primary care populations: Is it a problem? Canadian Journal of Public Health 94:408–412PubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Snook B, Keating K (2011) A field study of adult witness interviewing practices in a Canadian police organization. Legal and Criminological Psychology 16:160–172. doi: 10.1348/135532510X497258 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Statistics Canada (2005) Building on our competencies: Canadian results of the International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey. Statistics Canada, OttawaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Society for Police and Criminal Psychology 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kirk Luther
    • 1
  • Brent Snook
    • 1
  • Sarah MacDonald
    • 1
  • Todd Barron
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Science BuildingMemorial University of NewfoundlandSt. John’sCanada

Personalised recommendations