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Wednesday, December 20th 2006

I'm Utterly Convinced This Is A Real Thing

I’m convinced false confessions happen. I’m convinced there are cases where “weak” individuals, after hours upon hours of interrogation, just want to go home and I’m convinced there are cases where an individual’s recollection of an event or night is cloudy (alcohol, drugs, just tired even) and police actually persuade a suspect to believe a set of events (that they’ve made up) has occurred.

Jurors and the public need to wake up to the fact that the stress of interrogation, of being confronted with these accusations and police “evidence” is more than they can reasonably imagine. The simple minded juror sitting there say, “Well, if he didn’t do it, why would he confess?” no longer flies.

The false confession is real.

The circumstances of interrogation are crucial. “Everybody has a breaking point. Nobody confesses falsely in an hour,” says Kassin.

The use of false evidence (including statements such as, “Your fingerprints are on the gun”) in interrogation is implicated in almost every false-confession case, but American courts have upheld the practice. This is not to say that police intentionally ensnare the innocent. Kassin notes that detectives are trained to believe they can make accurate judgments about a suspect’s truthfulness, though “there’s a level of overconfidence in the initial judgment, and they begin the interrogation with a presumption of guilt.” Gudjonsson agrees: “Police officers need to know that they can elicit a false confession even if they don’t intend to.”

A particularly vulnerable defendant may begin to doubt his or her own memory when presented with false evidence.