The Truth About False Confessions

Expert Assistance
My Other Website

Looking for expert consultation and/or testimony?

Contact Professor Alan Hirsch




Archive Newer | Older

Monday, February 26, 2007

They Don't Get It


In the Texas case I last posted about, I noted that the court disbelieved that the suspect was promised leniency.  But the court went further, suggesting that even if the detective made the alleged promise, it did not amount to improper coercion. The defendant testified that he was promised that, if he confessed, “I would not be held accountable for actions or something of that sort.” The court of appeals held that “this assertion is vague at best, and does not amount to a positive promise that would likely induce a false confession.”


In fact, as all false confession experts know, even subtle hints can be interpreted as implying leniency.  To allow interrogators to make various assurances, as long as they stop short of “a positive promise,” is to invite false confessions.       

Send a comment


8:30 am est

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Go To The Tape

Earlier this month a court of appeals in Texas rejected a convicted defendant’s contention that his confession was coerced.  The defendant claimed that he was promised leniency if he confessed, the Court observed, but “no such promise appears on the videotape of appellant’s statement.”  Of course, very few detectives will make such a promise with the cameras rolling. That’s all the more reason to let them roll –during the entire interrogation, not just the confession itself. 

Send a comment



7:26 am est

Monday, February 19, 2007

On The Case

A visitor alerts me to this website worth checking out --

Send a comment



7:25 am est

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Economics of Videotaping Continued


Adding to my recent post on the economic logic behind videotaping all interrogations, a public defender writes:


“According to our local sheriff, there are currently 250 inmates in our local jail awaiting trial on murder charges.  Many of these cases, including two of my own, are several years old, and many of the clients have been in custody for four or more years.  Most of these cases involve some interrogation; most of those would settle or go to trial earlier and faster if the interrogations were taped from the beginning.”

Send a comment


7:49 am est

Monday, February 12, 2007

Economic Logic Of Videotaping

Responding to the civil settlements I’ve posted about, a visitor argues cogently that cities would save themselves a lot of money if they videotaped interrogations:


“If I wanted to run for office on fiscal responsibility grounds, I’d make taping every interview of every witness that was at the police station a priority.  Digital recorders built into $30 mp3 players, CD-roms that go for ten cents, $10 flash drives that hold 25 times what my first hard drive did and fit on a key chain: There's no excuse for not taping EVERYTHING.  Some smarter police departments finally got the idea and realized that, when officers tape everything during their interactions with witnesses and suspects, good things happen. The philistines instead want to enact immunity laws [which protect the police from lawsuit].” 


It’s absolutely true that videotaping interrogations is good for everyone – taxpayers and law enforcement very much included. 

Send a comment


7:44 am est

Thursday, February 8, 2007

False Plea Bargains

A visitor writes:


I have a friend whose life has been shattered by a false confession, a plea bargain.  . . . .  A visit from his daughters brought his world crashing down around him. They went swimming in the apartment pool. His youngest daughter was jumping to her dad from the side when she slipped and injured herself on the rocks around the edge. Within a few days, he had charges filed against him for indecency with a child. He had never been in trouble before and had very little money. . . . After two years of postponements and a couple lie detector tests (which he passed), the anxiety was more than he could take. His attorney urged him to plea bargain and told him otherwise, if found guilty, he could be facing a 20 year prison term. He was coerced into signing a confession of guilt that led to a 10 year probated sentence.” 


But, according to the visitor, the shame and other effects of the conviction have devastated her friend. The story is a reminder that quite a few false confessions arise in the plea bargaining context.  A confession may seem like the least bad option, but the false confessor often comes to regret it and cannot set the record straight. 

Send a comment


6:59 am est

Monday, February 5, 2007

What Can You Do?


A visitor writes: Before my son was accused [of sexual assault] I always assumed if someone was accused that they were probably guilty. Why would they arrest someone if they didn't have the evidence? I never gave a thought as to how confessions were obtained. The only real evidence was his confession. After hours of screaming, accusing, lying, and telling him they were charging him with rape and that he would never see his kids again, he finally broke. . . . What can the average citizen do to change the law? Maybe it is not too late to save others from the heartbreak that my family has suffered. How can we work to get this changed?”


At this point, probably the most effective action ordinary citizens can take is to write your state legislators urging mandatory taping of all interrogations.

Send a comment


7:04 am est

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Prosecutorial Disqualification

Mike Nifong was right (at long last) to disqualify himself from the prosecution of the Duke lacrosse players. Nifong was hopelessly compromised by the politics of the situation and his own public assertions of the defendants’ guilt. I have long recommended prosecutorial disqualification in similar circumstances involving false confessions. Whenever DNA or other powerful evidence suggests the innocence of someone convicted on the basis of his confession, the case should be turned over to a new prosecutor. In case after case, even after DNA exonerations, prosecutors refuse to admit error and call for the innocent man’s release. They dig in, and justice is delayed or altogether denied. 

Send a comment


7:36 am est

Archive Newer | Older