The Truth About False Confessions

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Capital Punishment

A visitor from Texas writes:


“Those not actually living in jurisdictions that enthusiastically support capital punishment might not understand the mentality that frequent executions help to create.  . . . The killing of any criminal is unnecessary. Once they are caught, tried and convicted the only reason for executing anyone is to satisfy our own need for vengeance, and once those bloodthirsty hounds are loosed we are all in danger. As the old saying goes, vengeance is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

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8:16 am est

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Defense Counsel

A defense attorney who has had success getting confessions suppressed writes me to ask that the following advice be passed along to the defense bar:


“Two points to be made when the Reid method is deployed by the police:  1. Consider hiring a psychologist to examine your client's vulnerability to pressure; 2. Get copies of the Reid training manuals in discovery. The method of interrogation can then become the focus of the trial . . . .”


I would add that one can also retain a false confessions expert (in those jurisdictions that permit them) to testify about the tendency of the Reid technique to produce false confessions. 

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8:08 pm est

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Marty Tankleff

tankleff.jpgMy very first post on this website was about Marty Tankleff, whose case involves one of the great injustices in the annals of false confessions. As the message from a visitor below indicates, Marty’s supporters won’t give up. I find this message ((from a former policeman no less) heartening in another respect as well: It recognizes the progress we’re making in educating the public on this issue.   


“I am an advocate for Marty Tankleff along with many others in Suffolk County.  We eagerly await Marty's presentation to the NY State Appellate Court but are cautiously optimistic. We have seen injustice after injustice continue to be perpetrated purely for political expediency and a way to avoid taking responsibility for the worst scandal in Suffolk County history and one of the most egregious wrongful convictions and false confession cases anywhere in the country.  I say this as an experienced investigator with the NY State Police where I spent over 23 years.  I put a lot of people in prison but they belong there.  Marty doesn't.  I can't say how valuable the Internet has been in advocating for those like Marty.  The mainstream media has dropped the ball for a variety of reasons (one being that they depend on access to the police departments and prosecutors for news).  . . .  I and many others have been converted due to the Internet with websites like yours that can tell the unvarnished truth which isn't watered down for political correctness.” 

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7:35 am est

Monday, November 20, 2006

Damned If You Do. . . .

Earlier this month an Alabama trial court granted the government's motion to exclude psychiatric testimony that the defendant, who claims she confessed falsely, is mentally retarded. The Court reasoned that expert testimony would be admissible only if it "specifically addresses how the conditions of interrogation or other circumstances could cause her confession in this case to be involuntary or false."

The irony is that quite a few courts prevent false confession experts from testifying about exactly that. They claim that allowing the expert to explain how circumstances call into question the reliability of the confession invades the province of the jury. So it goes: defendants who wish to challenge their confession with expert testimony are told that such testimony is too specific or not specific enough. To be sure, many courts do allow false confession expert testimony (though some of them significantly limit its scope). All courts should. It's bad enough that jurors strongly intuit that an innocent person would not confess. The problem is compounded when jurors are denied insight and information to correct their false intuition.

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6:59 am est

Friday, November 17, 2006

Check It Out
This new website devoted to forensic psychology has an excellent page on false confessions.
7:37 am est

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Trouble With Kansas
gavel1.jpgLast week a federal court in Kansas court rejected a defendant's contention that his confession was coerced. The court noted his argument that "the police enticed him to confess by helping him create his false confession, sympathizing with him, and refusing to let him tell his side of the story. [He further] claims police told him if he confessed, they would tell the prosecutor and help him. Even accepting these allegations as true, they are insufficient to show a coercive environment sufficient to render Petitioner's statements involuntary."

That's three heavy sentences. The first two describe interrogative practice known to induce false confessions, and the third says too bad.
7:43 am est

Monday, November 13, 2006

California Dreaming

fooledyou.jpgEarlier this month a court of appeals in California rejected a defendant’s contention that the confession he was tricked into giving should not have been admitted into evidence.  The court noted that the officer “used one of his common interrogation techniques by placing some blame on the victim.”  A bit later, he “used another common interview technique called a fictional fantasy.” I needn’t go into detail about this sordid technique. Suffice to say that the court termed the various techniques “ruses,” but was unbothered because the officer merely “used common interview interrogation techniques that he was trained to use on any suspect.”


Exactly, and therein lies the problem. Perhaps the Court doesn’t know what all false confessions experts know all too well: the common interrogation techniques that police are trained to use on any suspect work too well: they elicit confessions from the innocent as well as the guilty.

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7:14 am est

Friday, November 10, 2006


Another visitor responded to my recent post about prosecutorial misconduct in the Duke lacrosse case:


“This injustice has consequences for persons of all races, religions and creeds. I hope and pray that we are energized to make changes that prevent such prosecutorial misconduct. The voters of Durham have the opportunity to send Nifong packing.”


Alas, Mike Nifong, the lead perpetrator of the injustice, was reelected on Tuesday.

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7:07 am est

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The Absence Of Evidence

Remember the wild case of Amy Yates, a girl murdered in Georgia?  A teenage boy confessed, but was eventually released from a juvenile facility when another teenager confessed.  Unfortunately, the second confessor, who is mentally impaired and has a history of mental illness, later retracted his confession. Last week, the grand jury indicted the second confessor. The scary thing is that, according to news accounts, the district attorney admits that the only evidence against him is his confession.  Teenage boys with serious cognitive deficiencies are not likely to commit the perfect murder. We need to know more about this case to be sure, but the absence of corroborating evidence makes me wonder if this indictment is justified. 

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5:52 am est

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Get Out And Vote
Let's hold our servants accountable.
2:16 am est

Monday, November 6, 2006

Prosecutorial Misconduct

In response to my recent post about the Duke lacrosse case, a visitor writes: “Yes, justice delayed is justice denied. This case should never have moved past the police blotter.”


True enough, and suggestive of another area where it’s crucial for prosecutors to maintain the highest professional standards: the screening of cases to see which merit going forward.  

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1:57 am est

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Hail The Judge

Last week a judge in Florida tossed out the confession of a mentally retarded man.  The Miami Herald reports the basis for the judge’s ruling: “the police officers who took it coached him about what to say, led him to believe he could go home if he said he killed the child by accident and failed to fully investigate the case.”


The judge spotted a triple threat. Alas, all three aspects of the misconduct cited – coaching, telling the suspect he can go home if he confesses, and failure to investigate – are recurring aspects of false confessions cases.

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7:32 am est

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