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Are police interrogation tactics encouraging false confessions?

Given the serious consequences that accompany many felony convictions, no defendant would confess to a crime that he or she didn’t commit, right? Yet according to one former homicide detective, false confessions are obtained in far too many criminal cases.

The detective wrote a book on the subject, offering his advice for reforms that the criminal justice system could make to reduce the problem of false confessions. Notably, he has first-hand experience on the subject, having extracted a confession from a suspect after a 16-hour investigation, only to later find proof that established the defendant’s innocence and resulted in a dismissal of the charges.

After re-examining his behavior during the interrogation, the former detective concluded there were several factors that contributed to the false confession. He had relied on an erroneous handwriting analysis and a voice stress test. Perhaps more importantly, the detective had implied that the defendant’s cooperation would result in a better outcome.

The detective’s personal account is not an isolated incident. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, false confessions comprise about 12 percent of the 1,900 wrongful convictions in their database.

The detective theorizes that defendants make a false confession based on a faulty cost-benefit analysis. Some may believe that a confession will result in their release, or perhaps a far lesser charge. Police training may also need reforms, as current practices allow detectives to falsely tell a suspect that he or she was identified by other witnesses, failed a polygraph, or even was implicated by the evidence.

Our Nebraska criminal defense law firm understands how intimidating police interrogators can be. This is why it is vitally important to assert one’s right to legal counsel after an arrest. The Miranda warning reminds a defendant that he or she has  the right to an attorney present during police questioning.

Source: Washington Post, “Homicide detective’s book describes ‘How the Police Generate False Confessions’,” Tom Jackman, Oct. 20, 2016

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