Category Archives: Confessions

Video taped confessions and judicial biases

confessionResearch from Ohio University (press release, 13 Mar) indicates that a suspect’s videotaped confession is more likely to be considered voluntary if the camera focused on only the suspect, rather than on the detective eliciting the confession, or both suspect and detective equally. The results are particularly important because:

In more than 25 percent of wrongful convictions exonerated by DNA testing, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty, according to the Innocence Project. Police interrogation tactics – which include exaggerating the evidence against the suspect or implying the suspect could face an extreme sentence – can prompt a suspect to make a false confession, said Daniel Lassiter, an Ohio University professor of psychology.

In videotaped confessions, many law enforcement agencies focus the camera on only the suspect. Lassiter’s research shows that this practice creates what he calls a camera-perspective bias that leads trial participants to view the confessions as voluntary, regardless of how interrogators obtained them.

The study is published in the March issue of the journal Psychological Science, which is not yet online.

See also:

Photo credit: Daniel Lassiter.

Call for Posters and conference announcement: Interrogations & Confessions

ohiouniOhio University is hosting a conference dedicated to research on interrogations and confessions from 27-29 September 2007 in Athens, Ohio.

This conference is funded in part by the American Psychological Association and was designed to provide a focused forum for assessing the current status of research on interrogations and confessions from a variety of perspectives, including those within psychology (social, cognitive, developmental, and clinical) as well as from sociolegal, criminal justice, and legal perspectives.

Confirmed speakers include Ray Bull, Gregory DeClue, Steven A. Drizin, Solomon M. Fulero, Gisli Gudjonsson, Saul M. Kassin, Daniel Lassiter, Richard A. Leo, Christian A. Meissner, Allison D. Redlich, Dickon Reppucci, Thomas P. Sullivan, Aldert Vrij, Elizabeth C. Wiggins and Lawrence S. Wrightsman.

Poster submissions from faculty and graduate students across disciplines are invited (deadline 1 May). More details on the conference website.

Photo credit: marada, Creative Commons License

Quick links

A few items from the blogosphere in the last few weeks:

The BPS Research Digest (8 Mar) discusses research on teenage delinquency and absent fathers.

Neuroethics and Law Blog (3 Mar) highlights some research on neuroimaging and capital punishment.

The Innocence Blog (20 Feb) reports on a case in which it appears that investigators tried “to conform the evidence to their theories rather than the other way around”, and OmniBrain highlights a new article in Psychological Science in the Public Interest that examines current police confession procedures.

Cognitive Daily (12 Feb) discusses research on some problems with face composite systems, concluding that “not only do face-composite systems impact the memory of eyewitnesses, they also don’t appear to offer much help in identifying suspects”.

Camera Perspective Bias in Videotaped Confessions

In the December 06 issue of Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, some research on video-taped confessions. The abstract explains:

The camera perspective from which a criminal confession is videotaped influences later assessments of its voluntariness and the suspect’s guilt. Previous research has suggested that this camera perspective bias is rooted in perceptual rather than conceptual processes, but these data are strictly correlational. In 3 experiments, the authors directly manipulated perceptual processing to provide stronger evidence of its mediational role. Prior to viewing a videotape of a simulated confession, participants were shown a photograph of the confessor’s apparent victim. Participants in a perceptual interference condition were instructed to visualize the image of the victim in their minds while viewing the videotape; participants in a conceptual interference condition were instructed instead to rehearse an 8-digit number. Because mental imagery and actual perception draw on the same available resources, the authors anticipated that the former, but not the latter, interference task would disrupt the camera perspective bias, if indeed it were perceptually mediated. Results supported this conclusion. Copyright © 2007 Elsevier B.V.


False Confessions on All in the Mind (BBC)

The most recent edition of the BBC Radio 4 Programme All in the Mind (27 Dec) has a segment on false confessions, featuring an interview with one of the most prolific false confession researchers, Gisli Gudjonsson, Professor of Forensic Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. According to the AitM website:

[Gudjonsson’s] recent study looks at the relationship between people who make false confessions (to police, parents and teachers) and their perceptions of their parental rearing practices. His research was done in Iceland in conjunction with colleagues at the University Hospital, Reykjavik, and published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology in November 2006.

Gudjonsson explains on the programme that he and his research team found a strong relationship between a perception of parental rejection and lack of warmth and the likelihood of false confession, and he and the presenter Claudia Hammond discuss some of the reasons for this. Fascinating stuff.

You can listen again to the programme before 3 January via this link (click on the ‘listen again’ button).


Gudjonsson’s magnum opus on confessions:

  • Gudjonsson, G.H. (2002). The Psychology of Interrogations and Confessions: a Handbook. Published by John Wiley & Sons. Available at and Amazon UK

How False Confessions Work

In the wake of the media flurry over John Mark Karr, who recently confessed to the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, How Stuff Works has just published new pages on why someone might make a false confession to a crime :

False confessions are relatively common in high-profile criminal cases. For example, more than 200 people confessed to the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s son. For this reason, law enforcement officials typically keep some of the details of high-profile investigations secret. If a confessor can describe these secret details, investigators can be more confident that the confession is true.

Lots of detail and some good links.

See also:

JonBenet Ramsey case – just a little bit…

There’s stacks of coverage out there, inevitably. The place to go for one-stop ultra-comprehensive coverage is, as many readers will know, Steve Huff’s CrimeBlog US. Meanwhile, here are a couple of articles with forensic psych links:

The WISHTV site links to some video of an Indianapolis forensic psychiatrist discussing the JonBenet Ramsey case (18 Aug):

As more information comes out on John Mark Karr, the suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey killing, there are more and more questions about him and his motivations. We know he’s facing other charges. […] Indianapolis forensic psychiatrist Dr. Larry Davis says his confession might be a sign of a deep self-destructive depression. “That’s one example of an individual that could confess a crime that they hadn’t done, or to confess elements of information that no one knew because of his own self depreciation and deep depression,” Dr. Davis says.

The Rocky Mountain News (18 August) also wonders whether the Karr confession is true:

DNA evidence is the key to finding out whether John Mark Karr is truly JonBenet Ramsey’s killer or just a nut case seeking his 15 minutes of fame, legal experts said Thursday. Karr’s “kooky confession” won’t be enough to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, said former Denver prosecutor Craig Silverman. […] “I can’t imagine anyone inside the law community believing this confession,” said Brent Turvey, a forensic scientist and author of Criminal Profiling: An Introduction to Behavioral Evidence Analysis. “It obviously doesn’t fit.”

See also:

Recently published journal articles from non-forensic journals: Juvenile offending

Recently (and not so recently) published journal articles from non-forensic journals on the topic of juvenile offenders.

Assessing the Potential for Violent Behavior in Children and Adolescents – Russell Copelan. Pediatrics in Review. 27(5): May 2006

Latino High School Students’ Perceptions of Gangs and Crews – Edward M. Lopez, Alison Wishard, Ronald Gallimore, and Wendy Rivera. Journal of Adolescent Research 21(3): May 2006

Adolescents in Adult Court: Does the Punishment Fit the Criminal? – Peter Ash. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 34(2): June 2006

Mental Health Care in Juvenile Detention Facilities: A Review – Rani A. Desai, Joseph L. Goulet, Judith Robbins, John F. Chapman, Scott J. Migdole, and Michael A. Hoge. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 34(2): June 2006

Childhood and Violence in Advertising: A Current Perspective – Inmaculada Jose Martinez, Maria Dolores Prieto, and Juana Farfan. International Communication Gazette 68(3): June 2006

Factors Precipitating Suicidality among Homeless Youth: A Quantitative Follow-Up – Sean A. Kidd. Youth and Society 37(4): June 2006

A Rasch Differential Item Functioning Analysis of the Massachusetts Youth Screening Instrument: Identifying Race and Gender Differential Item Functioning Among Juvenile Offenders – Elizabeth Cauffman and Randall MacIntosh. Educational and Psychological Measurement 66(3): June 2006

Mental health needs of young offenders in custody and in the community – Prathiba Chitsabesan, Leo Kroll, Sue Bailey, Cassandra Kenning, Stephanie Sneider, Wendy Macdonald, & Louise Theodosiou. British Journal of Psychiatry 188(6): June 2006

Motivational Interviewing With Dually Diagnosed Adolescents in Juvenile Justice Settings – Sarah W. Feldstein and Joel. I. D. Ginsburg. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention 6(3): June 2006

Custodial interrogation, false confession and individual differences: A national study among Icelandic youth – G.H. Gudjonsson, J.F. Sigurdsson, B.B. Asgeirsdottir, I.D. Sigfusdottir. Personality and Individual Differences 41(1): July 2006

Rape at US Colleges Often Fueled by Alcohol – Thomas B. Cole. Journal of the American Medical Association 296(5): 2 August 2006

Exposure to Degrading Versus Nondegrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior Among Youth – Steven C. Martino, Rebecca L. Collins, Marc N. Elliott, Amy Strachman, David E. Kanouse, and Sandra H. Berry. Pediatrics 118(2): 2 August 2006

Assessing Columbine’s Impact on Students’ Fourth Amendment Case Outcomes: Implications for Administrative Discretion and Decision Making – Mario S. Torres, Jr. and Yihsuan Chen. NASSP Bulletin. 2006; 90(3): September 2006

The co-occurrence of adolescent boys’ and girls’ use of psychologically, physically, and sexually abusive behaviours in their dating relationships – Heather A. Sears, E. Sandra Byers and E. Lisa Price. Journal of Adolescence, In Press

Neighborhood-Level Factors and Youth Violence: Giving Voice to the Perceptions of Prominent Neighborhood Individuals – Michael A. Yonas, Patricia O’Campo, Jessica G. Burke, and Andrea C. Gielen. Health Education and Behavior, in press

    Freed Man Gives Lesson on False Confessions

    The LA Times (21 June) reports on the testimony of wrongfully-convicted Christopher Ochoa to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice. Ochoa made a false confession to the rape and murder of Nancy DePriest seventeen years ago, when:

    […] Ochoa told a Texas jury exactly how he and a friend repeatedly raped 20-year-old Nancy DePriest and then shot her dead at the Pizza Hut where she worked. […] Ochoa and his co-defendant, Richard Danziger, who steadfastly maintained his innocence, both received life sentences. But Ochoa’s story was a lie — a total lie.

    He had been threatened with the death penalty by a police detective if he did not admit that he and Danziger murdered DePriest; he also had to testify against Danziger. […] Eventually, with the help of pro bono attorneys, DNA tests were performed and the two men were exonerated.

    According to the LA Times, Ochoa, now 39, is testifying in particular “to express [his] strong feelings about a subject that many people find difficult to grasp: that innocent people sometimes really do confess to crimes they did not commit”.

    More on false confessions on the CrimePsych Blog here.

    A couple of interesting posts from law and technology blog Defensology

    [Updated 14 May 2016 – links to defensology dot com removed as Wordfence is telling me the site now contains malware]

    Defensology is an informative blog about technology and criminal justice that often carries posts that are of particular relevance to psychologists.

    For instance, on 25 June, Defensology author Robert Perez posted an article on a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to allow the use of a Computer-Generated Animation movie as part of the prosecution case. Defensology writes:

    The short film was generated with software commonly used by animators and was based on actual forensic evidence offered at the trial. […However,] the defense had argued strenuously that the CGA unduly influenced the jury because of its visual impact.

    The court rejected this argument based on a rather casual acceptance of a study finding that when nothing new is presented, the CGA would have little impact.

    I’m not sure what the study being referred to is – possibly the one mentioned in this post? Any other ideas?

    The latest Defensology post is on false confessions, and work of the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, which is considering a proposal that police agencies in California should videotape custodial interrogations. (The commission is expected to make final recommendations in about a month.)