Yesterday the New York Times joined the chorus calling for Virginia's
governor to pardon the Norfolk Four. Excellent. But the Times' editorial began: "Wrongful convictions are a staple of legal
fiction and thankfully less common in real life." Not all that uncommon. Consider that there are well over 200 DNA
exonerations of people wrongly convicted, a figure that represents only the tip of a frighteningly large iceberg.
I recently posted that we can expect jurors to become increasingly aware
of false confessions. However, we have a long way to go. This is an important point, because some courts exclude false confessions
expert testimony on the bizarre basis that false confessions are "common knowledge." A new article in Arizona State Law
Journal debunks that idea, offering substantial evidence that "the body of knowledge of false confessions is not only
well outside of the common knowledge of jury-eligible citizens, but also that peole harbor significant misconceptions about
This past Friday, a jury in Arkansas acquitted a teenager who had confessed
to arson. This unusual occurrence is a great sign. The more the public learns about false confessions, the more such acquittals
we will see.
Responding to my insistence on post-conviction DNA testing in cases
of recanted confessions, a visistor to this site asks: "If someone was so weak willed that they falsely confessed, should
they be able to later evade the consequences of their actions?" The question is problematic in multiple respects, starting
with the assumption that only the weak-willed would give a false confession. Modern interrogation techniques employ powerful
psychological coercion. Innocent people broken down by these techniques deserve full protection of the law.