I have no idea what Senator Larry Craig did in some bathroom stall,
but aspects of this story unrelated to his behavior are quite disturbing. First, the tape of his arrest reveals the
kind of bullying interrogation that can and does produce false confessions. Second, many people have already
publicly declared that Craig must be guilty because otherwise he never would have pled guilty. In fact, the
ranks of proven false confessions include quite a few false guilty pleas. And it's easy to understand that
someone in Craig's position might have wished to put the ordeal behind him -- even if innocent.
Videotaping interrogations is a great idea,
but no panacea. The best way to prevent convictions based on false confessions is to end the interrogation practices that
produce false confessions in the first place. As this article reminds us, a jury seeing a videotaped confession will not always be able
to determine its truth or falsity – particularly if it’s not videotaped properly.
Earlier this year, authorities in
dropped charges against four middle school students accused of a conspiracy to massacre their classmates.The basis of the charge was a confession browbeaten out of one of the four – a confession that the authorities
now concede was false. The students’ lawyer reports that during the lengthy interrogation of his client, the two detectives
used profanity, slammed the table, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. The lead detective does not deny the allegation. Nor
apologize for it. “We were aggressive and we would do it again today,” he says. False confessions continue unabated precisely
because of this unwillingness to learn.
Yesterday a day care worker in Queens was sentenced to 20 years in prison
for raping a 4 year old boy. The only evidence was a confession she claims was coerced, but the trial court refused
to allow her to present testimony from a false confessions expert. Today's New York Times quotes the woman's lawyer as
saying that the jury "would have heard a different story" if such testimony were permitted. Indeed.
The exclusion of expert testimony about false confessions is a major
problem. Jurors, like everyone else, intuitively assume that a confession must be true. There's no excuse for judges
to refuse to allow a jury to be educated.