Difference between revisions of "False Confessions / Admissions"

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There are three types of false confessions: Voluntary, Compliant and Persuaded or Internalized.<ref>International Bridges to Justice: Vietnam Hanoi Criminal Defense Training Program Materials(2004).</ref>  
 
There are three types of false confessions: Voluntary, Compliant and Persuaded or Internalized.<ref>International Bridges to Justice: Vietnam Hanoi Criminal Defense Training Program Materials(2004).</ref>  
  
'''Voluntary Confessions'''
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'''Voluntary Confessions:'''
A voluntary confession is one that occurs in the absence of police coercion. Sometimes it is a result of pressure from third parties. For instance, sometimes people confess to protect the real criminal or provide an alibi for another crime. In high profile cases, it is common for voluntary confessions to come from an internal desire for attention or self punishment.  
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A voluntary confession is one that occurs in the absence of police coercion. Typically the individual learns about the crime and contacts the police.  Sometimes it is a result of pressure from third parties or the result of a mental illness. For instance, sometimes people confess to protect the real criminal or provide an alibi for another crime. In high profile cases, it is common for voluntary confessions to come from an internal desire for attention or self punishment.  
  
 
Voluntary false confessions tend to be an anomaly and the result of a personal choice.<ref>International Bridges to Justice: Vietnam Hanoi Criminal Defense Training Program Materials(2004).</ref>  
 
Voluntary false confessions tend to be an anomaly and the result of a personal choice.<ref>International Bridges to Justice: Vietnam Hanoi Criminal Defense Training Program Materials(2004).</ref>  
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'''Compliant False Confessions:'''
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Compliant false confessions are given in response to police coercion, stress or pressure. Compliant confessions are where the confessor knows that he is innocent and what he is saying is false. A variation of the ''compliant false confession'' is the ''coerced compliant false confession'' where a confessor is convinced that he is trapped and the best solution is to confess in spite of his innocence.  Typically the pressure of the interrogation process has become so overwhelming that the suspect is willing to agree to anything to avoid being questioned any further.  The confession is typically offered in exchange for a promise by the police: either a promise to return home, an end to the interview, or to protect the suspect's family. The perception from the confessor's perspective is that the immediate gain of ending interrogation outweighs the long-term consequences of confessing.<ref>International Bridges to Justice: Vietnam Hanoi Criminal Defense Training Program Materials(2004).</ref>  Many suspects do not understand that any kind of confession tends to be very persuasive to the fact finder, whether or not the confession is retracted in the future.  Even though many compliant confessions are later withdrawn after coercion has diminished, the impact of the confession on the fact finder remains the same.
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== Practical Considerations ==
 
== Practical Considerations ==

Revision as of 17:05, 15 June 2010

Background

The phenomenon of False Confessions is not a recent development. In the United States alone, false confessions date back to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, when it was common for accusations of witchcraft to lead to false confessions.[1]

Today, false confessions are a leading cause of error in wrongful convictions. In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.[2] Because false confessions are generally discovered through subsequent exonerations, it is unknown how common false confessions are.[3]

Confessions are extremely persuasive at trial. Despite widespread evidence of false confessions, juries have difficulty understanding the basic notion of a false confession. Even when coercion is a factor, many people are unable to comprehend how an individual could possibly confess to a crime that he or she did not commit.[4]


Persuasiveness of Confessions

There are a number of reasons why coerced confessions continue to be such persuasive evidence. First, police-induced confessions are counterintuitive to many people. Despite studies substantiating the prevalence of false confessions, juries have difficulty understanding how someone could confess to a crime they did not commit. In addition, coercion is misunderstood by many people. In general, only physical torture is found to be coercive, ignoring the influence of psychological games and maneuvers by police investigators that can lead to confessions. Finally, many attorneys lack the knowledge or ability to determine whether a confession is false, which leads to innocent defendants pleading guilty at the behest of their lawyers to avoid harsh sentences.[5]


Why do Suspects Confess?

The mystery of why suspects confess perplexes most people. Most people, particularly members of the jury acting as the fact finder, cannot comprehend an innocent person confessing to a crime he or she did not commit. However, it happens. People confess all the time. Some common elements that lead to a false confession are:

  • Duress
  • Coercion
  • Intoxication
  • Diminished Capacity
  • Mental Impairment
  • Ignorance of the Law
  • Fear of violence
  • Threat of Harm, or
  • Misunderstanding of the Situation

Understanding what can lead to a false confession is key to recognizing one in the future.[6]

Traits of Coercion, Force, and False Statements

Part of a defense attorney's responsibility includes investigating any confessions by clients. It is important to look for specific elements of coercion, force and false statements. Elements include:

Coerced Confession

  • Pressure
  • Deception
  • Persuasion
  • Custodial
  • False Promises
  • False Facts
  • Youth
  • Low Self-Esteem


Forced Confession

  • Physical Threats
  • Emotional Threats
  • Isolation
  • Deprived of Food
  • Physical Contact
  • Several Interrogators
  • Length of Holding
  • Fear


False Confession

  • Youth
  • Mental Health Issues
  • Linguistic Clues
  • Inaccurate Answers
  • Non-responsive
  • Contradictory
  • Exaggerated
  • Desire to Please


All of the elements listed above can contribute to a client making a false confession. To investigate, obtain any evidence of the confession. Look for police recordings of the interrogation and subsequent confession. Interview your client and the police officers. Ask the client what happened and look for any discrepancies between their story and the confession. Remember to never presume the client is guilty, even if they have "confessed" to the police.[7]


Types of False Confessions

There are three types of false confessions: Voluntary, Compliant and Persuaded or Internalized.[8]

Voluntary Confessions:

A voluntary confession is one that occurs in the absence of police coercion. Typically the individual learns about the crime and contacts the police. Sometimes it is a result of pressure from third parties or the result of a mental illness. For instance, sometimes people confess to protect the real criminal or provide an alibi for another crime. In high profile cases, it is common for voluntary confessions to come from an internal desire for attention or self punishment.

Voluntary false confessions tend to be an anomaly and the result of a personal choice.[9]


Compliant False Confessions:

Compliant false confessions are given in response to police coercion, stress or pressure. Compliant confessions are where the confessor knows that he is innocent and what he is saying is false. A variation of the compliant false confession is the coerced compliant false confession where a confessor is convinced that he is trapped and the best solution is to confess in spite of his innocence. Typically the pressure of the interrogation process has become so overwhelming that the suspect is willing to agree to anything to avoid being questioned any further. The confession is typically offered in exchange for a promise by the police: either a promise to return home, an end to the interview, or to protect the suspect's family. The perception from the confessor's perspective is that the immediate gain of ending interrogation outweighs the long-term consequences of confessing.[10] Many suspects do not understand that any kind of confession tends to be very persuasive to the fact finder, whether or not the confession is retracted in the future. Even though many compliant confessions are later withdrawn after coercion has diminished, the impact of the confession on the fact finder remains the same.


Practical Considerations

Trial Tips

Case Studies

  • Shawn Massey

Notes

  1. Saul M. Kassin, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Implications for Reform, Current Directions in Psychological Science 17:4, 249 (2008) available at http://www.williams.edu/Psychology/Faculty/Kassin/files/Kassin%20%282008%29%20-%20APS%20CD.pdf.
  2. Innocence Project Website: [1]
  3. Saul M. Kassin, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Implications for Reform, Current Directions in Psychological Science 17:4, 249 (2008) available at http://www.williams.edu/Psychology/Faculty/Kassin/files/Kassin%20%282008%29%20-%20APS%20CD.pdf.
  4. Saul M. Kassin, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Implications for Reform, Current Directions in Psychological Science 17:4, 249 (2008) available at http://www.williams.edu/Psychology/Faculty/Kassin/files/Kassin%20%282008%29%20-%20APS%20CD.pdf.
  5. Saul M. Kassin, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Implications for Reform, Current Directions in Psychological Science 17:4, 249 (2008) available at http://www.williams.edu/Psychology/Faculty/Kassin/files/Kassin%20%282008%29%20-%20APS%20CD.pdf.
  6. Innocence Project Website: [2]
  7. International Bridges to Justice: Vietnam Hanoi Criminal Defense Training Program Materials(2004).
  8. International Bridges to Justice: Vietnam Hanoi Criminal Defense Training Program Materials(2004).
  9. International Bridges to Justice: Vietnam Hanoi Criminal Defense Training Program Materials(2004).
  10. International Bridges to Justice: Vietnam Hanoi Criminal Defense Training Program Materials(2004).