Criminal Law Resources: False Confessions

In the Innocence Project's series Understand the Causes, they point out that "[i]n more than 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty." False Confessions (Innocence Project). This article surveys selected web-based resources and publications that shed light on the psychology and interrogation practices behind false confessions, as well as highlighting notable educational and bibliographic materials.

Current Awareness

  • Deception Blog
    "The purpose of this Blog is to collate information about psychological research on deception, and the applications of this research."
  • Decision Science News
    "Decision Science News is a website about decision research in Marketing, Psychology, Economics, Medicine, Law, Management, Public Policy & Computer Science."
  • Psychology and Crime News
    "The purpose of this blog is to collate information of interest in a forensic psychological context. I hope that anyone who is interested in keeping up with developments in psychology in a forensic context, and practical forensic developments that may have psychological relevance will find this service useful, although it is aimed primarily at an academic audience. Because I am based in the UK, many of the reports tend to have UK focus."
  • Truth About False Confessions
    "False confessions are a terrible tragedy that is largely preventable. This blog has three specific goals for combating the tragedy: to educate the public and policymakers and deepen understanding of all aspects of the problem; to promote specific reforms; and to assist attorneys with clients who may have confessed falsely."

False Confession Research

  • Admissibility of False-Confession Testimony: Know Thy Standard, 22 J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 535 (2005)
    "The reliability of confessions is subject to a variety of factors, some of which give rise to expert testimony. To the degree that prosecutors construe the determination of reliability as an objective standard, they may attempt to bar testimony. Moreover, when the testimony is theoretical rather than clinical, there are additional challenges. Depending on jurisdiction, the admissibility of expert testimony on whether a confession was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary is subject to a legal threshold such as the Frye or Daubert standard. The authors review a 2002 New Jersey Superior Court ruling that illustrates the forces that shape the admissibility of confessions."
  • Consequences of False Confessions: Deprivations of Liberty and Miscarriages of Justice in the Age of Psychological Interrogation, 88 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 429 (1998)
    "This article explores whether contemporary American psychological interrogation practices continue to induce false confessions like the third degree methods that preceded them. This article also analyzes how likely police-induced false confessions are to lead to the wrongful arrest, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration of the innocent. And this article examines with field data [FN13] whether confession evidence substantially biases a trier of fact even when the defendant's statement was elicited by coercive methods. [FN14] We explore this issue with cases in which the defendant's statement has not only been coerced but is also demonstrably unreliable, and in which other evidence proves or strongly supports the defendant's innocence. Part II of this article discusses the selection and classification of the sixty disputed confession cases under study. [FN15] Part III describes the findings of our research. Part IV analyzes the deprivations of liberty and miscarriages of justice associated with the sixty cases described in this article. Finally, Part V discusses the import of this research and offers some concluding remarks."
  • Evolutionary Psychology and False Confession, American Psychologist, December 2005, at 1037
    "Because his work strikes at the heart of the American criminal justice system-its fairness-the value of Kassin's (2005) empirical points cannot be understated. Here, we offer a complementary model of the psychology of false confession, one that articulates many of Kassin's insights through the language of evolutionary psychology. We argue that false confessions are the result of specific social dynamic events that trigger evolved heuristics of information management that were designed to maximize our ancestors' genetic replicative success."
  • False Confession, Psychology Today, March/April 2003
    "Why an innocent person will confess guilt. A review of one decade's worth of murder cases in a single Illinois county found 247 instances in which the defendants' self-incriminating statements were thrown out by the court or found by a jury to be insufficiently convincing for conviction."
  • I'd Know a False Confession If I Saw One: A Comparative Study of College Students and Police Investigators, 29 Law and Human Behavior 211 (2005)
    "College students and police investigators watched or listened to 10 prison inmates confessing to crimes. Half the confessions were true accounts; half were false-concocted for the study. Consistent with much recent research, students were generally more accurate than police, and accuracy rates were higher among those presented with audio-taped than videotaped confessions. In addition, investigators were significantly more confident in their judgments and also prone to judge confessors guilty. To determine if police accuracy would increase if this guilty response bias were neutralized, participants in a second experiment were specifically informed that half the confessions were true and half were false. This manipulation eliminated the investigator response bias, but it did not increase accuracy or lower confidence. These findings are discussed for what they imply about the post-interrogation risks to innocent suspects who confess."
  • Problem of False Confessions in the Post-DNA World, 82 North Carolina Law Review 891 (2004)
    "In recent years, numerous individuals who confessed to and were convicted of serious felony crimes have been released from prison-some after many years of incarceration-and declared factually innocent, often as a result of DNA tests that were not possible at the time of arrest, prosecution, and conviction. DNA testing has also exonerated numerous individuals who confessed to serious crimes before their cases went to trial. Numerous others have been released from prison and declared factually innocent in cases that did not involve DNA tests, but instead may have occurred because authorities discovered that the crime never occurred or that it was physically impossible for the (wrongly) convicted defendant to have committed the crime, or because the true perpetrator of the crime was identified, apprehended, and convicted. In this Article, we analyze 125 recent cases of proven interrogation-induced false confessions (i.e., cases in which indisputably innocent individuals confessed to crimes they did not commit) and how these cases were treated by officials in the criminal justice system."
  • Psychology of False Confessions, 2 Journal of Credibility Assessment and Witness Psychology 14 (1999)
    "Obtaining a confession is one of the most important aims of police interrogation, and it is estimated that more than 80% of solved criminal cases are solved by a confession. However, a significant number of confessions that result in wrongful convictions are obtained through coercive questioning. This paper examines false confessions and discusses the psychological and social factors that influence innocent suspects to give self-incriminating false statements during police interrogation. Inherently coercive police questioning techniques that are employed to obtain confessions from suspects in-custody are presented."
  • True Crimes, False Confessions, Scientific American Mind, June 2005
    "Why would an innocent person confess to a crime? A scan of the scientific literature reveals how a complex set of psychological factors comes into play. First, techniques commonly used by investigators during interviews make them prone to see deceit in suspects, a perception that tends to bias the outcome of the questioning. When the accused waive their constitutional rights to silence and to counsel during questioning by the police, they may also unwittingly lose procedural safeguards and put themselves at greater risk of making a false confession. Other contributors include a given person's tendencies toward compliance or suggestibility in the face of two common interrogation tactics--the presentation of false incriminating evidence and the impression that giving a confession might bring leniency. In short, sometimes people confess because it seems like the only way out of a terrible situation."

Recording Custodial Interrogations

  • Electronic Recording of Custodial Interrogations: Everybody Wins, 95 Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 1127 (2005)
    "This article will summarize what our inquiries have revealed and explain why I conclude that recording custodial interrogations is of great importance, and is best instituted through legislation."
  • Electronic Recording of Police Interrogations (NYCLA 2004)
    "Recent reports of innocent defendants convicted largely because of false confession have been followed by individuals and groups calling for electronically recording interrogations. The practice of electronically recording complete custodial interrogations has been on the increase both in this country and throughout the world. Statutes requiring the recording of interrogations in their entirety have been introduced in a number of legislatures and enacted in the District of Columbia and Illinois. Police departments are increasingly adopting electronic recording of complete interrogations, and those that have done so have found the practice beneficial to law enforcement. We believe it is time the practice of videotaping complete interrogations is mandated in all state and federal jurisdictions."
  • False Confessions & Mandatory Recording of Interrogations (Innocence Project)
    "The electronic recording of interrogations, from the reading of Miranda rights onward, is the single best reform available to stem the tide of false confessions."
  • Federal Law Enforcement Should Record Custodial Interrogations, The Federal Lawyer, Sept. 2006
    "This article explains why the time has come for the federal agencies to begin recording custodial interviews."
  • Police Departments That Currently Record a Majority of Custodial Interrogations (2007 Innocence Network Conference)
  • Police Experiences With Electronic Recording of Custodial Interrogations (Center on Wrongful Convictions 2004)
    "The electronic recording of police interviews with criminal suspects is an efficient and powerful law enforcement tool. It has been done for years by many police agencies large and small throughout the United States. Their experiences have been uniformly positive."

Resources

  • False Confession (Innocence Project)
    This is a fact sheet outlining the key causes of false confessions and wrongful convictions.
  • False Confession (Wikipedia)
    This article provides background on the issues surrounding false confessions and descriptions of actual case studies.
  • False Memory Lab (University of Arkansas)
    "The False Memory Lab is run by Dr. James Lampinen of the Psychology Department at the University of Arkansas. The lab conducts research and publishes articles on false memories, eyewitness testimony, children's memory, jury decision making, and the relationship between states of consciousness and memory."
  • Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale (Wikipedia)
    This article offers a summary description of the Gudjonsson Scale for measuring a person's susceptibility to interrogative techniques.
  • How Police Interrogation Works (How Stuff Works)
    This article is an overview of common police questioning procedures and includes citations and links to case studies and other resources
  • John E. Reid & Associates
    This site contains information about the Reid Technique for interviewing and interrogation.
  • Why Would a Person Make a False Confession to a Crime? (How Stuff Works)
    This is a brief overview along with references to case studies and other resources.

PowerPoint Presentations

Bibliographies