The Truth About False Confessions

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Surprise, Surprise

Last week's Irish Times, reporting on a false confession, notes that the detective sergeant "cannot explain why [a man] "would make a false admission in custody after he spent an entire day protesting his innocence." It quotes him as saying: "The only explanation I can give is that this is an unusual man, an extraordinary man, capable of doing anything."

American law enforcement personnel are not the only ones who don't get it.

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8:30 am est

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Kudos To The Court


I’ve posted quite a bit about the failures of prosecutors and judges to protect against false confessions.  As a recent case in California demonstrates, sometimes it’s defense counsel who drop the ball.  In this murder case, defense counsel elected not to file a pre-trial motion to suppress the defendant’s confession.  When the taped confession was played for the jury, the judge (on his own) concluded that the confession was coerced.  The court declared a mistrial, and the court of appeals held that double jeopardy barred a retrial.  Kudos to the court!

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8:00 am est

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Mixed Results

Earlier this month the Supreme Court of Mississippi reversed the conviction of Tyler Edmonds, a likely false confessor, based on various procedural and evidentiary errors. That’s very good news. The bad news is that the court summarily rejected one of Edmonds’ most important arguments: that the trial court erred in excluding the testimony of his expert witness on false confessions. Given that the testimony of false confessions experts is critical for overcoming jurors’ intuition that an innocent person wouldn’t confess, the refusal of some courts to permit such testimony can be devastating. 

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1:03 pm est

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

False Accusations, False Confessions
From an interesting op-ed about the Duke lacrosse case by Dorothy Rabinowitz in the Wall Street Journal (1/11):
"For all the public shock and fury over his behavior, there is little that is new or strange about Mr. Nifong. We have seen the likes of this district attorney, uninterested in proofs of innocence, willing to suppress any he found, many times in the busy army of prosecutors claiming to have found evidence of rampant child abuse in nursery schools and other child-care centers around the country in the 1980s and throughout most of the '90s."
What's left is to connect the dots and recognize similar prosecutorial abuses in false confessions cases.
8:13 am est

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Expert Witness
Last month an Ohio court of appeals rejected the contention that the defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel when his attorney failed to retain an expert witness on false confessions. Given the standard for establishing ineffective assistance, the decision is understandable, but the case serves as reminder to defense counsel that a false confession expert can be indispensable for educating a jury. Even in jurisdictions which don’t allow such experts to testify, they can serve as valuable consultants, helping counsel see possible problems with the confession as well as offering suggestions for cross-examining the interrogators who took it.  
1:11 pm est

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


A visitor-attorney writes to say that, as preparation for one of his cases, he studied about false statements by children:  It is startling to learn how easily children can be made to make outrageous allegations against even their own parents if the interviewer leads them in that direction.”


Indeed, coached false allegations by children (often in the custody context) and false confessions by juveniles are serious problems. 

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8:20 am est

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Tune In To Dr. Phil
I'm told that Dr. Phil will feature the Marty Tankleff case on his show on Tuesday, January 9th. It's an amazing case, well worth learning about. To find the time of the show in your area, click here.
1:09 pm est

Friday, January 5, 2007

Mathew Livers

Another recently exonerated false confessor is Mathew Livers, who spent eight months in jail before charges were dropped.  In key respects, it’s a typical case – a confession induced by the Reid Technique and believed because it states details that, allegedly, only the culprit could have known. As is so often the case, such “knowledge” is highly misleading. As the Omaha World-Herald, reports, interrogators “fed details of the crime to Livers as he struggled to tell them how he did it.”  Also, after the ordeal was over, “Livers said he had learned the positions of the body, the number of gunshots and other details of the killings from relatives.”

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8:05 am est

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Around The Globe


A few events towards the end of 2006 suggest that interrogation practice may be changing for the better – at least beyond America’s borders.  In New Zealand, an initiative is picking up steam to move toward a less confrontational model of interrogation geared toward gathering information rather than producing quick confessions.  And China, of all nations, is moving towards videotaping entire interrogations.   

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9:05 am est

Monday, January 1, 2007

Nifong's Ethics
DA Mike Nifong has now been formally accused of ethics violations in his handling of the Duke lacrosse case. It's good to see efforts to hold Nifong accountable, but talking out of turn (which is what he's accused of) is the least of his sins. Prosecuting innocent defendants is the main sin. The idea that 2007 has arrived and these defendants remain under indictment defies belief.  
There are two reasons I keep posting about this case even though it does not involve a confession. First, false accusations are a cousin of false confessions. Second, prosecutorial misconduct is an important contributor to the saga of false confessions, and this case presents a clear example of a prosecutor off the rails.
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9:33 am est

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