I'll be on vacation and not posting for the next 10 days or so.
I will, however, be checking messages, and look forward to hearing from visitors with suggestions for next year or comments
on previous posts, lawyers looking to consult on a case, etc.
False confessor Jeffrey Deskovic was recently released from prison after a DNA exoneration.He had served 16 years. The judge who vacated his conviction said "There is no relief for your immeasurable
loss that I may offer you."Such an apology may seem hollow at this point, but
is commendable when compared to the way public officials, judges included, often react in similar situations.One thinks of the trial judge in the case of Eddie Lee Lloyd, a manic-depressive man who, during his interrogation
in the psychiatric ward of a hospital, was ruthlessly manipulated into a false confession. After DNA exonerated Lloyd (who
had served 17 years), the judge said in open court: ďEven though he might have lied about what he did, the fault falls on
him.The fault lies with no one else.Ē
One point should be added, germane to capital punishment.At
Lloydís sentencing, the judge expressed regret that, under Michigan law, Lloyd could not be put to death.
A rash of recent DNA exonerations brings the total to 188, with no signs of abatement Ė there have been more than thirty
in the last two years alone.False confessions are the second largest cause of
the wrongful convictions uncovered in these cases (behind mistaken identifications).
In that Michigan case I last posted
about, there was one additional piece of evidence that the trial court and court of appeals relied on in finding that the
third-partyís confession was false: ď[his] demeanor on the videotape of one of his statements was considered by several experienced
police officers to be inconsistent with the emotional reaction and body language of confessions to serious crimes.Ē
Here we go again, with police pretending
they can detect truthfulness or deceit just by observing people. The myth of human
lie detection contributes mightily to false confessions, because police often subject people to ruthless interrogations based
on a pre-screening interview in which they determine guilt based on body language and verbal cues. Those interrogations, in
turn, produce false confessions. But note that in this case the police claimed that observing body language enabled them to
spot a false confession.Is it a coincidence
that the confession they detected as false was not by the defendant?And that
their determination (accepted by the trial court and court of appeals) meant that the person actually convicted of the crime
would not be given a new trial? The deck seems stacked.
A decision last month by the Michigan Court of Appeals highlights
the perversity of the courtsí treatment of confessions. The defendant, convicted of murder, requested a new trial based on
newly-discovered evidence Ė a third party confessed to the murder. However,
the trial court found (and the court of appeals agreed) that the new confession was probably false and therefore not a basis
for a new trial for the defendant. The trial court and court of appeals found that the confession was vague, omitted key details,
and contradicted known facts about the crime. Fine. But why is it that these problems with confessions donít seem to bother
courts when itís the defendant who confessed?
Last week another false confessor was freed in Chicago. Robert Wilson,
who served 9 years of his 30-year sentence for attempted murder, was released when his victim, who identified him at trial,
fully recanted and insisted that he was not the culprit. Thus the case brought together two of the leading causes of wrongful
convictions: a misidentification and a false confession.
A recent post dealt with a defendant who claims he gave a false confession
to protect his mother. Iíve just come across a recent case from Indiana in which a mother claims she gave a false confession
to protect her son! I donít know whether these confessions were true or false but I do know that they serve as a reminder
of an essential truth: there are numerous motives for false confessions.
A visitor rejoices about the recent court decision that may free Derek
"I am so happy for Derek Tice and the attention this injustice is getting
in the news media. . . . I [am also] thrilled that Norfolk's homicide investigators will soon record interrogations of suspects
so lawyers, judges and juries can watch them from start to finish. I want to thank Larry Tice the father of Derek for hanging
in there and doing the right thing for these sailors and anyone in Norfolk having to go thru a police investigation."
People assume that confessions must be true because they canít imagine why anyone would falsely confess to a crime. A recurring
theme of this blog is that there are numerous motives for someone to confess falsely. In a current murder trial on Long Island,
the defendant claims he confessed to killing his step-father because the police threatened to charge his mother with the crime
unless he confessed. I have no idea whether heís telling the truth, but protecting loved ones is indeed a motive one sometimes
finds for a false confession.
Derek Tice, one of the Norfolk Four who remains imprisoned although almost
certainly innocent, may be free by the end of the month, thanks to a decision by a state judge that Tice received ineffective
assistance of counsel at his trial. The decision will be appealed (and I'll be posting more about this case), but for now
this is great news!