False Confessions 1

False Confessions Jake J. Koppenhaver

CJ-210 Professor Brown February 9, 2008

False Confessions 2 False Confessions Why do innocent people confess? It may be confusing or unbelievable to some, but innocent people do confess to crimes they did not commit. As a matter of entertainment, television shows and movies commonly portray false confessions as a means to protect the true guilty party from punishment. This scenario, while likely to have happened before in reality, is not usually the case when a false confession is discovered. Usually in these cases, the methods used by the police to gain the confession come under scrutiny. Perhaps the most famous case involving multiple false confessions is that of the 1989 Central Park Jogger. The victim was brutally beaten and raped, left in a coma for two weeks. Five young men were convicted of this crime based on confessions, yet none of them actually committed the act. Many experts believe that this is due to the methods police used to interrogate the suspects, which were described as coercing, and in some ways outright deceptive. Are the police partially or wholly responsible for this? Speaking from a logical standpoint, the police cannot be wholly responsible for a false confession, just as parents would not be responsible for their young adult going to college to learn the family trade with no actual interest in pursuing that career. As with all human decision, there are internal and external factors to be considered before a choice is made. While the methods police use may support the decision to confess, it is not the sole reason. Police interrogation methods have changed much over time, slowly favoring a concern for liability issues that have arisen over more questionable tactics. Should all police interrogations be videotaped?

False Confessions 3 Each and every police interrogation should definitely be videotaped, not only out of a concern for liability but also for future review. Each interrogation will no doubt have elements that are displayed in court, which must be accurately recorded and documented. The interrogation process should also be visually documented for training purposes, able to be used for educational programs for new investigators, and so that it may be reviewed should any new evidence or ideas come into light. Audio recordings are helpful, as are written transcripts, but each and every person’s form of non-verbal communications to do not come out in an audible way. It is important to see the whole situation, and not just bits and pieces of it. Seeing the situation in this manner is what drives the investigator in the first place. Should police be allowed to lie to suspects to elicit a confession? This particular question can be seen as a matter of personal morals and ethics. Does the investigator compromise his position as a pursuer of justice in order to bring one to justice? I do not believe so. The investigator stands for truth in the eyes of many, as their job is to ferret out deceit and discover what lies beyond it. Lying to elicit a confession is harmful to not only the individual investigator, but also their agency, and the suspect. In the Central Park Jogger case, the police were reported to have told the suspects that with a confession some would be set free. If the suspect is indeed innocent, this can lead to a stress-based confession that is false, thus resulting in the guilty party remaining free of punishment. If the guilty party is free of punishment, the investigator has failed their purpose. Some investigators may use this reason to justify their lying to a suspect, but if the suspect is guilty, there is almost always other evidence pointing to them. Police can even help gather more evidence by putting a different twist on the words they use in suspect interrogations. For example, if there are multiple suspects in a crime which are

False Confessions 4 both being held for interrogation, instead of using the common deception that one will “roll over” on the other to elicit a confession, they could use wording that puts the idea in the suspects mind without lying at all: “Your buddy Jeff is down the hall waiting for us to finish up here, which looks like it will be pretty soon if you’re not willing to give up any more information. When we got him settled into his room he seemed like he wanted to talk first, but we were sure we would get more help from you. Maybe he has some things to tell us that you’re not because he knows he would get help from us in return.”

False Confessions 5 References Osterburg, James & Ward, Richard (2004). Criminal Investigation: A Method for Reconstructing the Past. University of Illinois: Anderson Publishing.

Soree, Nadia (2005). When the Innocent Speak: False Confessions, Constitutional Safeguards, and the Role of Expert Testimony. American Journal of Criminal Law, Vol.32, Iss. 2; pg. 191

Kassin, Meissner, and Norwick (2005). I’d Know a False Confession if I Saw One. Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 29, No.2, April 2005.

Redlich & Goodman (2003). Taking Responsibility for an Act Not Committed. Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 27, No. 2, April 2003.