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A false confession is an admission of guilt in a crime in which the confessor is not responsible for the crime. False confessions can be induced through coercion or by the mental disorder or incompetency of the accused. Even though false confessions might appear to be an exceptional and unlikely event, they occur on a regular basis in case law, which is one of the reasons why jurisprudence has established a series of rules to detect, and subsequently reject, false confessions. These are called the "confession rules."[citation needed]

Contents

Causes of false confession

Interrogation techniques such as the Reid technique try to suggest to the suspect that he will experience a feeling of moral appeasement if he chooses to confess. Material rewards, like coffee, the cessation of the interrogation and a warm bed are also used to the same effect. In Canada, courts of law have also recognized as valid confessions that were acquired, even though the interrogators lied, by suggesting they had substantial evidence against a given suspect when in fact they did not. (See R. v. Oickle, 2000 SCC 38[1]) It is then understandable that the high pressure generated may push innocent individuals to produce a confession. People who are easily coerced score high on the Gudjonsson suggestibility scale.

Sometimes sacrificial false confessions may be used to divert attention from the actual person who committed the crime. For instance, a parent might confess to save their child from jail. People may also confess to a crime, or plead guilty to a crime they did not commit, as a form of plea bargaining to avoid a harsher sentence. In some cases, people have falsely confessed to having committed notorious crimes simply for the attention that they receive from such a confession.

False confessions can be categorized into three general types, as outlined by Saul M. Kassin in an article for Current Directions in Psychological Science. Voluntary confessions are those that are given freely, without police prompting. Compliant confessions are given in return for a reward, as mentioned above. Internalized false confessions are those in which the person genuinely believes that they have committed the crime, as a result of highly suggestive interrogation techniques.[1]

Coerced false confessions

Brown v. Mississippi

In the United States, the 1936 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Mississippi established conclusively that confessions extracted through the use of physical brutality violate the Due Process Clause. In the case, three defendants had been sentenced to death for the murder of Raymond Stewart on March 30, 1934. The convictions had been based solely on confessions obtained through violence:

"... defendants were made to strip and they were laid over chairs and their backs were cut to pieces with a leather strap with buckles on it, and they were likewise made by the said deputy definitely to understand that the whipping would be continued unless and until they confessed, and not only confessed, but confessed in every matter of detail as demanded by those present; and in this manner the defendants confessed the crime, and, as the whippings progressed and were repeated, they changed or adjusted their confession in all particulars of detail so as to conform to the demands of their torturers. When the confessions had been obtained in the exact form and contents as desired by the mob, they left with the parting admonition and warning that, if the defendants changed their story at any time in any respect from that last stated, the perpetrators of the outrage would administer the same or equally effective treatment.
"Further details of the brutal treatment to which these helpless prisoners were subjected need not be pursued. It is sufficient to say that in pertinent respects the transcript reads more like pages torn from some medieval account than a record made within the confines of a modern civilization which aspires to an enlightened constitutional government."[2]

The Supreme Court concluded: "It would be difficult to conceive of methods more revolting to the sense of justice than those taken to procure the confessions of these petitioners, and the use of the confessions thus obtained as the basis for conviction and sentence was a clear denial of due process.... In the instant case, the trial court was fully advised by the undisputed evidence of the way in which the confessions had been procured.... The court thus denied a federal right fully established and specially set up and claimed, and the judgment must be reversed."[2]

Central Park jogger

In the Central Park jogger case, on April 19, 1989, five teens aged from 14 to 16 were arrested and each confessed on videotape to the crime of attacking and raping a jogger and implicated each other. They later repudiated these confessions and maintained their innocence. The five were: Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Raymond Santana and Kharey Wise. In 1989, the police were aware that an unidentified sixth person had left semen on the victim's body. In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted murderer and rapist, admitted that he was responsible for the rape and attack of the jogger. The DNA obtained from the crime scene matched Reyes. New York state justice Charles J. Tejada vacated the convictions of five defendants on December 19, 2002. Yusef Salaam served six and a half years in prison. Kharey Wise was imprisoned until summer 2002, which was when his sentence was completed.

Pizza Hut murder

In 1988 Nancy DePriest was raped and murdered at the Pizza Hut she worked at in Austin, Texas. A coworker, Chris Ochoa, pled guilty to the murder. His friend, Richard Danziger, was convicted of the rape. Ochoa confessed to the murder, as well as implicating Danziger in the rape. It was later discovered that the confession had been coerced. The only forensic evidence linking Danziger to the crime scene was a single pubic hair found in the restaurant said to be consistent with his pubic hair type. Although semen evidence had been collected, no DNA analysis was performed at this time. Both men received life sentences. Years later a man by the name of Achim Marino began writing letters from prison claiming he was the actual murderer. The DNA was now finally tested and it did indeed match with Marino. In 2001 Chris Ochoa and Richard Danziger were exonerated and released from prison after 12 years of incarceration.

Corethian Bell

Cook County, Illinois prosecutors were required to videotape murder confessions, but not interrogations, starting in August 1999. Corethian Bell, who has a diagnosis of mental retardation, said he confessed to the murder of his mother, Netta Bell, because police hit him so hard he was knocked off his chair and because he grew tired and hopeless after being in police custody for more than 50 hours. He said he thought that if he confessed, the interrogations would stop, then he could explain himself to a judge and be set free. With a confession on tape, he was then prosecuted and sent to jail. When the DNA at the crime scene was tested, it matched a serial rapist, who already was in prison for three other violent sexual assaults, all in the same neighborhood as the Netta Bell murder.

Simon Marshall

Simon Marshall was a Canadian rape suspect who was imprisoned for 5 years before genetic evidence found him innocent. Mental retardation was a factor in his confession. This case lead to the creation of the Marshall Commission.

Stephen Downing

Stephen Downing spent 27 years in prison. The main piece of evidence used against him was a confession he signed, but only after an 8-hour interrogation which left him confused, and his poor literacy skills meant he did not fully understand what he was signing.

Jeffrey Mark Deskovic

Jeffrey Mark Deskovic, was convicted in 1990 at age 16, of raping, beating and strangling a high school classmate, even though jurors were told the DNA evidence in the case did not point to him. He was incarcerated for 15 years. He confessed to the crime after hours of an interrogation without being given an opportunity to seek legal counsel.

Michael Crowe

Michael Crowe confessed to the murder of his younger sister Stephanie Crowe in 1998. Michael, 14 at the time, was targeted by police when he seemed "distant and preoccupied" after Stephanie's body was discovered and the rest of the family grieved. After two days of intense questioning, Michael admitted to killing Stephanie. The confession was videotaped by police, and appeared to be coerced, at times Michael saying things to the effect of, "I'm only saying this because it's what you want to hear." Two of Michael's friends, Josh Treadway and Aaron Hauser, were questioned and confessed after many hours of interrogation. The charges were dropped after DNA testing linked a neighborhood transient to her blood. A TV movie was made out of the story called The Interrogation of Michael Crowe in 2002.

Gary Gauger

Gary Gauger was sentenced to death for the murders of his parents Morris, 74, and Ruth, 70, at their McHenry County, Illinois farm in April 1993. He was interrogated for over 21 hours and gave the police a hypothetical statement, and they took it as a confession. His conviction was overturned in 1996 and freed. He was pardoned in 2002. Two motorcycle gang members were later convicted of Morris and Ruth Gauger's murders.

Japan

13 men and women, ranging in age from their early 50s to mid-70s, were arrested and indicted in Japan for buying votes in an election. Six confessed to buying votes with liquor, cash and catered parties. All were acquitted in 2007 in a local district court, which found that the confessions had been entirely fabricated. The presiding judge said the defendants had "made confessions in despair while going through marathon questioning." [3]

Voluntary false confessions

Robert Hubert

Robert Hubert confessed to starting the Great Fire of London by throwing a fire bomb through a bakery window. It was proven during his trial that he had not been in the country until two days after the start of the fire, he was never at any point near the bakery in question, the bakery did not actually have windows, and he was crippled and unable to throw a bomb. Despite this, Hubert was found guilty and executed by hanging.[2]

Laverne Pavlinac

Laverne Pavlinac confessed that she and her boyfriend murdered a woman in Oregon in 1990. They were convicted, then released five years later when Keith Hunter Jesperson confessed to a series of murders. She had become obsessed with details of the crime. Her boyfriend confessed to avoid the death penalty. She later said she confessed to get out of an abusive relationship.

John Mark Karr

John Mark Karr confessed to the murder of JonBenét Ramsey. He had become obsessed with the details of her murder and was extradited from Thailand. His story did not match details of the case, and his DNA did not match that found at the crime scene. His wife and brother said he was home in another state at the time of the murder, and had never been to Colorado.

Others

Taping interrogations and confessions

Most jurisdictions do not require a confession to be videotaped, and fewer still require the audiotaping of interrogations.

See also

References

  1. ^ Saul M. Kassin, “False Confessions Causes, Consequences, and Implications for Reform,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 17, no. 4 (2008): 249, http://www.williams.edu/Psychology/Faculty/Kassin/files/Kassin%20(2008)%20-%20APS%20CD.pdf (accessed August 24, 2009).
  2. ^ a b United States Supreme Court (1936-02-17). "BROWN et al. v. STATE OF MISSISSIPPI.". www.injusticeline.com. http://www.injusticeline.com/brown.html. Retrieved 2007-09-05. 
  3. ^ "Pressed by Police, Even Innocent Confess in Japan". New York Times. May 11, 2007. 

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