The Truth About False Confessions

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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Duke Postscript

Apropos the Duke lacrosse case, a visitor writes: 


“This was a true miscarriage of justice.  The DA should be disbarred for ruining these boys’ lives and the media is culpable as well. We are too much into sensationalism in this country and the media just goes overboard. It was so poignant that one of the players said that we had the means to defend ourselves but what about the people who don't?”


True enough. Prosecutorial misconduct, lack of resources for criminal defense, and media malfeasance all contribute to wrongful convictions.  
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7:00 am est

Monday, May 28, 2007

Confessions From Canada
A visitor from Canada writes to assure me that false confessions is an even bigger problem in his country than here. He notes that "In Canada, extremely coercive questioning is allowed by precedent" -- a statement that also applies here. His mesage is a reminder of a truth I often emphasize: false confessions are an international problem.
7:54 am est

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Beyond The Police Station
A federal court in Louisiana recently denied Wal-Mart summary judgment in a case brought by several former employees alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. One of the employees alleges, among other things, that she was hauled into a manager’s office where she was told (falsely) that she had been caught on camera illegally clocking in another employee. She claims she was threatened with termination but assured that she would not be punished if she confessed. She alleges that she gave a false confession as a result. We’ll find out at trial whether the allegations are true, but we already know that companies like Wal-Mart nationwide have adopted the interrogative methods known to produce false confessions.
6:54 am est

Monday, May 21, 2007

Not So Progressive

Last month Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court, which has a reputation as one of the most progressive courts in the nation, held that testimony from a false confessions expert is inadmissible. Amazingly, the Court found that the research in this area is "not generally accepted." Juries in Massachusetts will remain uneducated about false confessions, guaranteeing more wrongful convictions.

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8:05 am est

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Good News, Depressing Numbers
The good news is that a man wrongly convicted of murder (based on his false confession) in New Jersey was freed earlier this week, exonerated by DNA tests that fingered the real culprit. The bad news is that he had served 19 years in prison. According to the Innocence Project, the 201 innocent persons exonerated by DNA served a total of nearly 2,500 years. Roughly 25% of them had confessed.
7:56 pm est

Monday, May 14, 2007

False Confessions East and West

From a recent New York Times article about false confessions in Japan: “The Japanese authorities have long relied on confessions to take suspects to court, instead of building cases based on solid evidence. Human rights groups have criticized the practice for leading to abuses of due process and convictions of innocent people.”

Substitute American for Japanese, and the above remains true.

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1:21 pm est

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

More Sixth Circuit

In a case last month the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected the claim that the police coerced a confession. The detective told the suspect that the police “were trying to decide how much of a monster [he] was, whether or not [he] should spend 18 months in jail or . . . the rest of [his] life in jail.” The court said that this comment, and others, were “unnecessary and inappropriate” but “does not transform a voluntary action into a coercive one.” If we want the police to interrogate properly, and want to safeguard against false confessions, courts cannot continue to countenance such tactics. 

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8:08 am est

Monday, May 7, 2007

Skeptical Authorities

The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit recently refused to grant a new trial to a murder convict who introduced new evidence of innocence. The evidence included the confession to the murder by a serial killer. The court upheld a lower court’s finding that the confession could not be believed because the confessor failed to identify the location of the murder or where he deposited the body. That’s fine, but why is it that prosecutors and courts reserve their skepticism about confessions for cases where the confession would exonerate someone else? 

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5:58 am est

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Money Talks

A visitor responds to my recent posts about the economic benefits of taping interrogations.


“More and more, I've been thinking that financial/economic consequences are a good focus in getting people to understand the importance of injustices. When it becomes very expensive for the justice system to make serious mistakes, people within the overcrowded/overburdened justice system will be more motivated to avoid situations that end up with wrongful convictions. Money talks.”

Great point. The economic costs include large verdicts against municipalities for punishing people later proven innocent. Who foots the bill? Taxpayers, of course.   

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6:08 am est

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