The Truth About False Confessions

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Disappointing Decision
The U.S. Supreme Court recently decided that when the police arrest someone based on a withdrawn warrant that was mistakenly left in the computer, the evidence found during the arrest should not be excluded at trial. Especially as we learn about the extent of wrongful convictions (stemming from false confessions and other causes), the last thing we should be doing is encouraging sloppiness by law enforcement.
3:23 pm est

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Two Good Announcements
It's been a good week. On the national level, Barack Obama announced that his administration will not engage in waterboarding. On a local level, officials in Nassau County, New York announced that they will join the ranks of jurisdictions that videotape all interrogations related to major felonies. Both of these actions will help reduce the number of false confessions.
8:51 pm est

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Body Language
In a recent case where I served as a false confessions expert, at the suppression hearing the interrogating officer explained that he knew the defendant was guilty based on her body language. At one point he said that, when the defendant denied her guilt, she was crying, and "the two don't add up. If she had nothing to do with it and she was being honest about it, the emotions wouldn't have been coming out." 
This is nonsense, but it's dangerous nonsense. Police are taught that they can reliably make these kinds of assessments, but studies show that neither they nor anyone else can determine whether someone is telling the truth based on assessments of behavior or body language.
10:03 am est

Friday, January 2, 2009

Death In Georgia
There's a movement afoot in Georgia to eliminate the requirement of jury unanimity for imposition of the death penalty. The last thing we should be doing is making it easier to execute people, especially now that DNA testing has exonerated so many people wrongly convicted of crimes.  A number of them, including some who had given false confessions, had been on death row.
7:46 am est

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