Category Archives: Confessions

On the Psychology of Confessions: Does Innocence Put Innocents at Risk?

This article, by Saul Kassin, appears in the April 05 issue of American Psychologist Vol 60(3) pp215-228

Abstract: The Central Park jogger case and other recent exonerations highlight the problem of wrongful convictions, 15% to 25% of which have contained confessions in evidence. Recent research suggests that actual innocence does not protect people across a sequence of pivotal decisions: (a) In preinterrogation interviews, investigators commit false-positive errors, presuming innocent suspects guilty; (b) naively believing in the transparency of their innocence, innocent suspects waive their rights; (c) despite or because of their denials, innocent suspects elicit highly confrontational interrogations; (d) certain commonly used techniques lead suspects to confess to crimes they did not commit; and (e) police and others cannot distinguish between uncorroborated true and false confessions. It appears that innocence puts innocents at risk, that consideration should be given to reforming current practices, and that a policy of videotaping interrogations is a necessary means of protection. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2005 APA, all rights reserved)

Supreme Judicial Court rules on the use of confessions

Supreme Judicial Court rules on the use of confessions
Boston Globe, August 17, 2004
The state’s highest court ruled yesterday that judges should begin instructing juries in criminal trials to be skeptical when police fail to tape-record confessions or statements made by defendants in custody. In a 4-to-3 decision with broad implications for police investigations, the Supreme Judicial Court said that if defendants request it, judges must tell juries that the high court wants statements to be recorded ”whenever practicable” and that the absence of recordings is evidence to be weighed ”with great care and caution.”
[…] ”There is no dispute that the evidence of a defendant’s alleged statement or confession is one of the most significant pieces of evidence in any criminal trial,” Justice Martha B. Sosman wrote for the majority. ”When there is a complete recording of the entire interrogation that produced such a statement or confession, [jurors] can evaluate its precise contents and any alleged coercive influences that may have produced it.” Conversely, when ”interrogating officers have chosen not to preserve an accurate and complete recording of the interrogation, that fact alone justifies skepticism of the officers’ version of events, above and beyond the customary bases for impeachment of such testimony,” the majority said.