According to an online news report published on sciencemag.org, a psychologist explains why innocent people are persuaded into confessing to crimes that they did not commit. The article cites a case in which a 16-year-old boy was harshly interrogated by police until the child admitted to interrogators that he killed his mother. The boy was in shock, having discovered his mother's body. New York City police interrogators did not consider the child's state of mind when conducting the interrogation. After several hours of being influenced and threatened by the police interrogators, the boy broke down and told the law enforcement officers what the officers wanted him to say- that he killed his mother. The boy withdrew his confession shortly thereafter because he knew he was innocent and that he trusted that the criminal justice system.
He soon recanted, knowing he was innocent and hoping the justice system would acquit him of the false confess and the murder charges. However, the boy was found guilty of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison. 2Twenty years later, the innocent boy, now a man, was granted parole. However, the wrongly convicted son would never be able to clear his name. Sadly, his mother's murderer would never be brought to justice.
Lawyers from various organizations fought for over ten years to clear the man. The attorneys presented facts that repudiated his confession back in 1991. The evidence also uncovered evidence of prosecutorial wrongdoing. However, according to the Bronx District Attorney's Office, the false confession outweighed any evidence. The Bronx District Attorney's Office would not overturn the conviction simply because- why would anyone admit to a murder that they didn't commit?
The wrongfully convicted man's attorneys then brought in a psychologist from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Saul Kassin is one of the world's top experts on police interrogation. Mr. Kassin stated that he was going to make a simple 15-minute presentation. However, the attorneys asked Mr. Kassin some very good questions that led to a discussion that continued for about 2 1/2 hours.
Mr. Kassin told the attorneys that false confessions are common. In the past couple of decades, more than 360 inmates were exonerated due to the Innocence Project's work. These wrongfully imprisoned people supposedly confessed to a crime that they were serving time. After conducting over 30 years of research, Mr. Kassin stated that he has how psychological pressures and standard interrogation techniques and escape hatches will cause an innocent person to confess guilt for a crime he or she didn't commit. Mr. Kassin stated that young people are especially vulnerable to making a false confessing when they are stressed, traumatized, or tired.
Finally, and after 30 years, the innocent man was exonerated in his mother's murder in 1991.
A confession is widely considered a "gold standard" piece of evidence necessary to obtain a guilty verdict or a forced plea deal. In some cases, innocent people were facing life in prison or the death penalty for confessing to a murder where the victim was later found alive and well.
Mr. Kassin states that he was not surprised at the number of false confessions elicited from law enforcement. Mr. Kassin spent many years studying law enforcement interrogation techniques. Mr. Kassin continues to study how juries reach verdicts, and he was shocked by how much power a confession will all but guarantee a guilty verdict.
Typically a police interrogation begins with a behavioral assessment of the suspect. The law enforcement interrogator will begin to ask unrelated and provocative questions while looking for signs of deception, such as crossing the arms, slouching, or looking away. If law enforcement interrogators believe the suspect is deceptive, the police investigator will then moves on to phase two, which is the formal interrogation.
In the formal interrogation stage, law enforcement officers amp up there questioning by frequently accusing the suspect of being guilt or lying. The interrogator will also insist on hearing specific details, and they will ignore any denials. At certain times the interrogator will minimize the moral concerns regarding the crime and will offer the suspect understanding, empathy, and sympathy. The interrogators are careful not to downplay the illegality of the crime. However, this combination tactics often make for an innocent person to confess to a crime he or she did not commit. The news article provides an example, "If that woman wasn't dressed so provocatively, this would have never happened. It is believed that this type of pressure could lead to a false confession.
Sometimes when law enforcement falsely tells a suspect that they have an eyewitness to the crime, this can cause the suspect to start doubting their recollection of the facts. IN the United States, law enforcement is allowed to lie. One remarkable example of this happened on Long Island. A young man woke up and went to eat breakfast. He discovered his parents were brutally stabbed. The mother was dying and the father ended up in a coma. The police investigator working the criminal case did not think the child was upset enough. This made the child the prime suspect in the case. The interrogators spent hours trying to pressure the child into a confession. At one point, an investigator lied to the boy and stated that he had spoken with his father. Although the boy's father had passed away due to his injuries, the officer lied and stated that his father gave a full accounting of the boy viciously attacking both the mother and himself. The boy, who was suffering from shock beyond his ability to think and reason, gave in and provided law enforcement with a full confession. The boy spent nineteen years in prison until a large amount of evidence eventually set him free.
One of the more complex issues centered around confessions is that false confessions can appear real when the false confession supports forensics and supposed eyewitnesses. In one example, a detective told a suspect that important evidence was on its way. The detective claimed that he didn't actually lie to the suspect about any evidence that he had in his possession that would be later used against the suspect. Mr. Kassin interviewed exonerated men who stated that when they were confronted with the prospect of facing new evidence to be used against them, this had a startling psychological effect on the men. Many of the innocent men confessed to the crime as a way to get relief from the stressful situation. They figured that the "new evidence" eventually clear them of the crime. Their true innocence is what causes many people to believe the justice system would clear them and never put an innocent person behind bars. However, Mr. Kassin stated, "a belief in one's innocence and faith in the justice system can themselves be risk factors."
If you or a loved one is arrested or being asked to speak with the police, make sure you call Musca Law and have one of our attorneys present with you to help you avoid making damaging statements that could put you in jail.