The Truth About False Confessions

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Brief Break
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.
10:09 am est

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Better Late Than Never

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. 

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11:59 am est

Monday, December 18, 2006

Numbers Game

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). 

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9:07 am est

Friday, December 15, 2006

Body Language

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.

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7:06 am est

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Now THATíS a False Confession

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?

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9:50 am est

Monday, December 11, 2006

Holiday Cheer

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.

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10:16 am est

Friday, December 8, 2006

Mothers and Sons

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.

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9:24 am est

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Norfolk Four

A visitor rejoices about the recent court decision that may free Derek Tice:

"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."

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9:04 am est

Monday, December 4, 2006

Mom Protection

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.

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8:51 am est

Friday, December 1, 2006

Good Friday
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!  
8:27 am est

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