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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Incomplete Justice


An attorney writes to tell me about a recent case in California where his client “was interrogated until, after two statements during which he gave the police names of actual shooters, he finally confessed during the third round of interviewing. The entire statement was suppressed when the judge ruled that the defendant had been unlawfully arrested in the first place and said that the arresting officer perjured himself during his testimony.”


Happy ending? Except he adds: “The police just stopped investigating the case.  The real outrage of course, now that our client has been exonerated, is that the actual murderer will probably never be charged and, if he is, can put the whole investigation into doubt.”

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8:03 am est

Monday, June 25, 2007

Judicial Discretion

Apropos my recent post about an Ohio court excluding the testimony of a false confession expert, a judge sent me this message: “Judicial discretion is really a crutch that allows appellate courts to avoid reversing convictions by simply declaring that what should have been characterized as error instead falls within the (almost boundless) zone of judicial discretion.”

Judicial discretion is a complex topic onto itself, but I wholeheartedly agree that courts of appeals all too often rubber-stamp rulings by trial courts that seal the fate of defendants. This is a common occurrence when it comes to false confession expert testimony. Rather than undertake a serious analysis of whether the exclusion of such testimony deprived the defendant of a fair trial, the court of appeals will simply declare that the matter lies within the discretion of the trial court.     

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5:10 am est

Thursday, June 21, 2007

False Guilty Pleas


A visitor writes that many false confessions trigger wrongful convictions not through trial but through guilty pleas: “Since the confession, false or otherwise, appears to take precedence over any evidence, defendants are led to plead guilty and accept a plea.”


This is exactly right, and ultimately the only solution is the education of everyone (prosecutors, judges, defense lawyers, and laypeople – jurors) to understand the reality of false confessions. 

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6:24 am est

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nifong disbarred
Mike Nifong crossed the line by a mile and deserved to be disbarred. But it would be a terrible mistake to think that his biggest sin -- rushing to judgment about guilt and refusing to allow the evidence to shake his premature conviction -- is uncommon among prosecutors. Certainly in cases of false confessions, such behavior is characteristic.
8:11 am est

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Death And Deterrence


Death penalty proponents are touting recent studies allegedly establishing that capital punishment has a clear deterrent effect. That may be true. There may be other reasons to favor capital punishment as well. But given the proliferation of DNA exonerations (including quite a few cases of people who were in death row), state-sanctioned killing is unacceptable.

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7:00 am est

Monday, June 11, 2007

Human Lie Detection

This article reports a new study confirming what social scientists have long known: police who believe they can tell whether someone is lying based on body language and verbal cues are fooling themselves. This is critical because police are trained to believe in their “human lie detection” ability, and they often resort to aggressive interrogation, of the sort known to produce false confessions, only after they have decided someone is lying and therefore guilty. The study does suggest some promise in human lie detection, but a great deal of work needs to be done.  

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7:36 am est

Thursday, June 7, 2007

DNA Exonerations
The Innocence Project reports that DNA exonerations have climbed over the 200 mark. (Roughly 25% of these wrongly convicted persons had confessed.) We have every reason to believe that this is just the top of an iceberg. Who would have thought that many people incarcerated around the country are innocent? Does anyone find this state of affairs tolerable? 
5:43 am est

Monday, June 4, 2007

Taping Interrogations

This new report on electronic recording of custodial interrogations, by the Justice Project, is well worth checking out.

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5:50 am est

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