The Truth About False Confessions

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Friday, February 14, 2014

Death Penalty Stopped

The governor of Washington state has suspended application of capital punishment, citing flaws in the system. Surely those flaws include the risk of convicting the innocent (whether because of a false confession of something else).
The governor's action is a welcome development.
1:22 pm est

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Good News

Marty Tankleff, whose false confession gave rise to the first post on this website, has received more than $3.3 million from New York in a settlement of his civil lawsuit against the state.
11:16 am est

Monday, December 30, 2013

DNA
 
DNA exonerations in 2013 reached double digits (10 on the nose), which has been true every year starting 1999. The Innocence Project reports that in roughly 25% of the 312 DNA exonerations to date, the wrongly convicted person gave a full false confession or at least made incriminating statements.
 
12:47 pm est

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Psychology of False Confessions
 
This important laboratory research helps us understand why an innocent person might confess to a crime.
 
9:24 am est

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Good Deed Punished
 
The nomination of William Thomas to a Federal District Court judgeship in Florida has been blocked in part because, as a state court judge, Thomas excluded the confession of a teenage boy who was not properly read his Miranda rights.  Especially given the prevalence of false confessions by juveniles, this seems a classic case of a good deed punished. 
 
8:57 am est

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Serial False Confessions
 
Check out this fascinating story involving multiple false confessions.
 
10:17 pm est

Friday, June 14, 2013

Fabricated Confessions?
 
Are some false confessions fabricated by law enforcement? This article raises that disturbing possibility.
 
 
9:23 am est

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Supreme Court
 
Yesterday's Supreme Court decision, enhancing law enforcement's access to DNA, is on balance a good thing. While privacy concerns warrant respect, we mustn't forget the hundreds of wrongful convictions ascertained through DNA tests. (Many of those exonerated has given false confessions.)
 
8:47 am est

Monday, May 6, 2013

DNA
 
From a New York Times article on Saturday about a Mississippi inmate scheduled for execution who has been DNA tests that could exonerate him: "There have been many instances when seemingly strong cases -- even some where defendants themselves confessed -- fell apart after DNA testing." Indeed, DNA testing is one of the main ways we've learned about the surprising prevalence of false confessions. 
 
11:28 am est

Monday, April 15, 2013

Multiple False Confessions

I urge everyone to watch the PBS documentary on the Central Park Five -- a staggering case of multiple false confessions.
 
 
5:11 pm est

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Podcast
 
My chat with Candice DeLong, about the Ryan Ferguson case and false confessions generally, can be heard here. It's the March 9, 1 a.m. podcast.
 
11:38 am est

Monday, January 28, 2013

Prosecutorial Discretion
 
We're now learning that, 13 years ago, a Colorado Grand Jury voted to indict the parents of JonBenet Ramsey.  The DA, recognizing that he could not possibly establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, chose not to move the case forward.  Kudos to him.  Prosecutors are supposed to exercise such judgment to promote justice, not solely to seek prosecutions. (The Ramsey case featured a notorious false confession by John Mark Karr.)
 
1:25 pm est

Friday, January 4, 2013

DNA Database
 
Today's New York Times' front page story on a false confession in West Virginia makes an important point: "laws are needed to remove [DNA] databases from the exclusive grip of prosecutors and law enforcement to make them available to defense lawyers." 
 
8:32 am est

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Documented False Confessions
 
From a recent article in the New York Times: "a robust body of evidence has emerged . . . that innocent people will confess to crimes." Given that hundreds of false confessions have been documented, this qualifies as serious understatement.
 
3:35 pm est

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Prosecutorial Misconduct
 
Needless to say, false confessions are not the only source of wrongful convictions. This is an important article about another significant problem -- prosecutorial misconduct. 
 
8:17 am est

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Historic False Confession
 
This man's false confession helped lead to Miranda warnings.  At least some good came of the tragedy, which usually isn't the case.
 
7:56 am est

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Magic Number
 
The Innocence Project now reports 300 cases of persons wrongly convicted who were exonerated by DNA testing. Roughly 25% had given false confessions.
 
2:34 pm est

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hugo Bedau
 
Hugo Bedau passed away last week. Bedau's very important study (coauthored with Michael Radelet) in 1987 identified 350 wrongful convictions in capital cases, of which 49 involved false confessions. His pioneering work will long survive him.

 
8:35 am est

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Truth About Lie Detection
 
Earlier this week, the New York Times ran an item debunking the notion that people can spot a lie by watching someone's eyes. The myth that interrogators can determine innocence or guilt through such means is a major contributor to false confessions.
 
9:23 am est

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Real World
 
A recent article in the New York Times noted that criminal trials are "vanishingly rare" and plea bargaining represents "the real world of criminal justice." This observation is true and important, especially since the plea bargaining process is fertile terrain for false confessions. 
 
10:20 am est

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