The Truth About False Confessions

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Good Decision
Last week the Supreme Court reversed a murder conviction in Louisiana because of the prosecution's improper use of a peremptory challenge to dismiss a black juror. When the defense objected, the prosecutor offered a bogus justification for the dismissal (including the suggestion that the prospective juror looked nervous). The trial court bought it, but the Supreme Court (by 7-2 vote) did not. Any sensitivity by the Court to denial of defendants' rights is most welcome.
9:41 am est

Monday, March 17, 2008

As the hypocrisy of Eliot Spitzer has been much remarked, I want to call attention to a less dramatic form of hypocrisy displayed by too many prosecutors. They routinely trumpet the infallibility of DNA, but when DNA testing exonerates a false confessor, they raise doubts about the science. Of course, it's not just hypocrisy at work. There's also the fact that prosecutors, like everyone else, have trouble believing that an innocent person would confess. By now, though, we should know better.  
1:28 pm est

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Confessions and Corroboration

A homicide detective writes to complain that defense attorneys “fashion the idea of false confessions through questionable techniques” in an “attempt to cripple the justice system.”  We can argue about that, but what’s more important is that he goes on to say that “interrogations are just a part of the investigation. A confession should be corroborated through witnesses, physical, or other evidence available.”


Here, he and I are in heated agreement.  A confession should be corroborated by other evidence, and the absence of such corroboration should be regarded as a major problem.  All too often the authorities (and juries) consider a confession to be self-evident proof of guilt.  

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9:16 am est

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Word Is Spreading

Last week, 1) The Albany Times Union ran an excellent commentary by the president of the New York Bar Association urging the taping of all interrogations; and 2) The Dallas Morning News, citing the case of exonerated false confessor Christopher Ochoa, opined that it is “outrageous that Texas House members have blocked legislation to analyze such shameful wrongful convictions and recommend improvements” in the justice system.   


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10:57 am est

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