As the case against an innocent false confessor moves from one stage to the next in the criminal justice system, it gathers more collective force, and the error becomes increasingly difficult to reverse. Police-induced false confessions result from a multistep process and sequence of influence, persuasion, and compliance and usually involve psychological coercion.13 Police are more likely to elicit false confessions under certain conditions of interrogation, however, and individuals with certain personality traits and dispositions are more easily pressured into giving false confessions. Voluntary false confessions These confessions most often happen when the suspect has an underlying mental or psychological condition that distorts reality. Usually, the persuaded false confessor's postadmission narrative is replete with errors. These are the sources and citations used to research voluntary false confessions. Copyright © 2020 by The American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Sign In to Email Alerts with your Email Address. Kassin and Wrightsman33 initially defined a voluntary false confession as one that is offered in the absence of police interrogation. 17, p 512). Most people get it right at rates that are no better than chance (i.e., 50%) or the flip of a coin.15 Moreover, specific studies of police interrogators have found that they cannot reliably distinguish between truthful and false denials of guilt at levels greater than chance; indeed, they routinely make erroneous judgments.16,17 The method of behavior analysis taught by the police training firm Reid and Associates has been found empirically to lower judgment accuracy, leading Kassin and Fong to conclude that âthe Reid technique may not be effectiveâand, indeed, may be counterproductiveâas a method of distinguishing truth and deceptionâ (Ref. Most false confession cases involve police interrogations. Voluntary false confessions arise when innocent people offer self-incriminating statements without pressure from police (often to protect someone else or to gain attention in high-profile crimes, as when 200 people confessed to the 1,932 kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby son). People who make internalized false confessions, believing they are in fact guilty, even though they have no recollection of the crime, are usually: An example of an internalized false confession is that of Seattle police officer Paul Ingram who confessed to sexually assaulting his two daughters and killing infants in Satanic rituals. According to Saul M. Kassin, a professor of Psychology at Williams College and one of the leading researchers into the phenomenon of false confessions, there are three basic types of false confessions: While voluntary false confessions are given with no outside influences, the other two types are usually coerced by external pressure. In this article, empirical research on the causes and correlates of false confessions is reviewed. For example, in false-confession cases, interrogators have been adept at inventing, suggesting, or eliciting an account of the suspect's motivation; indeed, they often use scenario-based inducements as a method of attributing a motive to the suspect, typically one that minimizes his culpability, one that the suspect agrees to and then repeats, even if it is completely inaccurate. Still used today, this classiﬁcation scheme has provided an important framework and has since been used, critiqued, extended, and reﬁned in subtle ways (Kassin & Wrightsman, 1985). In the Central Park Jogger case, for example, all five juveniles falsely confessed after lengthy unrecorded interrogations in which they were yelled at, lied to, threatened, and promised immunity in exchange for their admissions to participating in the assault and rape.5 In 15 to 20 percent of the DNA cases, police-induced false confessions were the primary cause of the wrongful conviction.6,7 Here too, however, the documented cases appear to represent the proverbial tip of the iceberg, as the DNA exonerations again do not include most cases in which there is no DNA to test. Consequently, because of their excessive desire to please, especially with authority figures, getting a developmentally handicapped person to confess to a crime "is like taking candy from a baby," Ofshe says. Individuals who are highly suggestible tend to have poor memories, high levels of anxiety, low self-esteem, and low assertiveness, personality factors that also make them more vulnerable to the pressures of interrogation and thus more likely to confess falsely.12 Interrogative suggestibility tends to be heightened by sleep deprivation, fatigue, and drug or alcohol withdrawal.22,23 Individuals who are highly compliant tend to be conflict avoidant, acquiescent, and eager to please others, especially authority figures.9. The suspect does not know the facts; he is in the paradoxical situation of believing he committed an act that he wants to confess to but cannot remember. Such reforms, however, are likely to occur slowly in the United States. Some observers refer to this as âbiased responding.â26 The developmentally disabled answer affirmatively when they perceive a response to be desirable and negatively when they perceive it to be undesirable. In the pre-modern era of American interrogation, physical coercion, the so-called third degree, was the primary cause of such confessions. Innocent persons may be mistakenly targeted for suspicion and misclassified as guilty suspects for other reasons. Moreover, the presence of a confession creates its own set of confirmatory and cross-contaminating biases,46,47 leading both officials and jurors to interpret all other case information in the worst possible light for the defendant. They also do not include false confessions that were dismissed or disproved before trial, those that resulted in guilty pleas, those given for crimes that were not subject to postconviction review (especially less serious crimes), and those given in cases that contain confidentiality provisions (e.g., juvenile proceedings). As Ofshe and Leo have written, âthe modern equivalent to the rubber hose is the indirect threat communicated through pragmatic implicationâ (Ref. It is therefore easy to get them to agree with and repeat false or misleading statements, even incriminating ones. Persuaded false confessions appear to occur far less often than compliant false confessions. The postadmission narrative makes the story appear, at least on its face, to be a compelling account of the suspect's guilt. If, however, the entire interrogation is not recordedâand most documented false-confession cases are notâthen there may be no objective way to prove that the interrogator contaminated the suspect's postadmission narrative. The contamination of the suspect's postadmission narrative is thus the third mistake in the trilogy of police errors that, cumulatively, lead to the elicitation and construction of a suspect's false confession. Voluntary False Confessions. The third degree and the origins of psychological police interrogation in the United States, in Interrogations, Confessions, and Entrapment. offers no legal remedy should a jury convict a defendant based on voluntary false confessions, even if no corroborating evidence is admitted. However, social scientific studies have repeatedly demonstrated across a variety of contexts that people are poor human lie detectors and thus are highly prone to error in their judgment about whether an individual is lying or telling the truth. Once they obtain a confession, they typically close their investigation, clear the case as solved, and make no effort to pursue any exculpatory evidence or other possible leads, even if the confession is internally inconsistent, contradicted by external evidence, or the result of coercive interrogation.45 Even when other case evidence subsequently emerges suggesting or demonstrating that the suspect's confession is false, police almost always continue to believe in the suspect's guilt and the underlying accuracy of the confession.5,8 American police interrogators are poorly trained about the risks of psychological interrogation and the phenomenon of police-induced false confession,8,40 and, like most people, they tend to assume that virtually all confessions are true and thus assume that virtually all who confess are guilty.7, The presumption of guilt and the tendency to treat more harshly those who confess extends to prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges as well. Astonishingly, false confessions are fairly common. The developmentally disabled eagerly assume blame or knowingly provide incorrect answers to please, curry favor with, or seek the approval of an authority figure. He or she may suggest, for example, that the suspect experienced an alcohol- or drug-induced blackout, a âdryâ blackout, a multiple personality disorder, a momentary lapse in consciousness, or posttraumatic stress disorder, or, perhaps most commonly, that the suspect simply repressed his memory of committing the crime because it was a traumatic experience for him. proposed a taxonomy that distinguished three types of false confessions: voluntary, compliant, and internalized. The individual may want fame or notoriety, want absolution from guilt over imagined acts, have a desperate need for self-punishment or have the inability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. Confessions, especially detailed confessions, are devastating to a defendant's case because, as Welsh White notes, âjurors are often unwilling to believe that anyone would confess to a crime that they did not commitâ (Ref. Police detectives understand the importance of the postadmission phase of interrogation. False confessions can be categorized into three general types, as outlined by American Saul Kassin in an article for Current Directions in Psychological Science: Voluntary false confessions are those that are given freely, without police prompting. 8 Researchers and psychologists suggest that innocent suspects may voluntarily tender false confessions for a variety of reasons, including a pathological desire for notoriety, need for self-punishment stemming from guilt over prior transgressions, inability to distinguish fact from false … Great Britain has adopted several reforms, based on growing documentation and awareness of the problem of false confessions.9 American law enforcement, however, remains steeped in the use of investigative methods and interrogation techniques that continue to cause the three errors that produce false confessions, and the American public continues to believe in the myth of psychological interrogation. Social science research on wrongful convictions, however, has demonstrated that there are four ways to prove a confession is false: (1) when it can be objectively established that the suspect confessed to a crime that did not happen (e.g., the presumed murder victim is found alive); (2) when it can be objectively established that the defendant could not have committed the crime because it would have been physically impossible to have done so (e.g., he was in another location at the time of the crime); (3) when the true perpetrator of a crime is identified and his guilt can be objectively established; or (4) when scientific evidence, in recent years most commonly DNA evidence, conclusively establishes the confessor's innocence.8 Despite these four possibilities, only a small number of alleged false confessions contain the independent case evidence or circumstances that allow the confessor to prove his innocence beyond dispute. Most lay people believe in what has been referred to as the myth of psychological interrogation: that an innocent person will not falsely confess to police unless he is physically tortured or mentally ill.10 This belief has been noted by several scholars and documented in public surveys.7,11,12 The myth of psychological interrogation persists because most people do not know what occurs during police interrogations, and because they wrongly assume that individuals do not act against their self-interest or engage in self-destructive behavior, such as falsely confessing to a crime that they did not commit. Enter multiple addresses on separate lines or separate them with commas. While voluntary false confessions are given with no outside influences, the other two types are usually coerced by external pressure. III. Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice (ed 2). The jogger case is notorious but not unique. Like the developmentally disabled, they are easily pressured, manipulated, or persuaded to make false statements, including incriminating ones. Other high-profile crimes—like the 1932 Lindbergh kidnapping and the 1996 murder of JonBenét Ramsey—have also generated loads of voluntary false confessions. NOTE: We only request your email address so that the person you are recommending the page to knows that you wanted them to see it, and that it is not junk mail. It was known to the two juries that later convicted the boys. [In the case of Lowery v. County of Riley, 522 F.3d 1086 (10th Cir. Usually these amount to the same thing. Unlike most police interrogation techniques, promises and threats are neither standard nor legal; rather, they are regarded as coercive in both psychology and law.41 It is not hard to understand why such threats and promises in combination with standard interrogation techniques, such as repeated accusations, attacks on a suspect's denials, lies about nonexistent evidence, pressure, and inducements, may cause a suspect to confess knowingly to a crime he did not commit. Psychologically oriented interrogation techniques are just as capable of eliciting compliant false confessions as are physical ones. Mandatory electronic recording of police interrogations in their entirety is the single most important policy reform available because it creates an objective, comprehensive, and reviewable record of the interrogation that all partiesâpolice, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, juries, and even the public in high-profile casesâcan review. 10 Controversial Convictions Based on False Confessions. Instrumental voluntary false confessions are ones in which an individual comes forward on his/her behalf and confesses to the crime. The suspect offers up the remaining basis for his belief in his innocence: that he has no memory of committing the crime. A related trait is the cheating-to-lose syndrome. 1985: Types of false confessions (Kassin & Wrightsman, 1985). The fact is that false confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. We do not capture any email address. There have been numerous documented cases of false confessions from the developmentally disabled in recent years.5. Although researchers and scholars have long documented the problem of wrongful conviction,3 the use of DNA testing to exonerate innocent prisoners and the sustained media attention that it has received has increased public recognition that the criminal justice system often convicts the wrong people.4 Although the number of wrongful convictions continues to mount, the DNA exonerations represent only a small part of a much larger problem. As this article has shown, empirical researchers have documented and analyzed how and why contemporary methods of psychological interrogation can, and sometimes do, lead innocent individuals to confess falsely to serious crimes. As Salas points out: âMental illness makes people suggestible and susceptible to the slightest form of pressure; coercion can take place much more easily, and in situations that a ânormalâ person might not find coerciveâ (Ref. The road to perdition: extreme influence tactics in the interrogation room, in Handbook of Forensic Psychology. Voluntary, compliant, and internalized false confessions are distinguished and a sequence of three processes is articulated as responsible for these confessions … 52, No. A false confession is an admission (âI did itâ) plus a postadmission narrative (a detailed description of how and why the crime occurred) of a crime that the confessor did not commit. Some persuaded false confessors bend to the demands of their interrogators and confess in declarative language (e.g., âI didâ instead of âI must have doneâ), even though they lack any knowledge or memory of the crime; others continue to use equivocal, speculative, and uncertain language (âI must have done it,â âI probably did it,â âI guess I did it,â âI could have done itâ), insisting that they still do not know or remember the details. First, researchers cannot identify (and thus cannot randomly sample) the universe of false confessions, because no governmental or private organization keeps track of this information. Voluntary false confessions are thus explained by the internal psychological states or needs of the confessor9 or by external pressure brought to bear on the confessor by someone other than the police.34 Most voluntary false confessions appear to result from an underlying psychological disturbance or psychiatric disorder. ENDNOTES – Dassey v Dittmann; The Voluntary False Confession by Jordan Saunders-Cabrera jlsaundcab Uncategorized Leave a comment July 3, 2018 July 3, 2018 1 Minute Blog at WordPress.com. Threats and promises can take a variety of forms, and they are usually repeated, developed, and elaborated over the course of the interrogation. As Kassin and Wrightsman33 point out, individuals volunteer false confessions in the absence of police questioning for a variety of reasons: a desire for notoriety or fame, the need to expiate guilt over imagined or real acts, an inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, or a pathological need for acceptance or self-punishment. This chain reaction starts with the police. Typically, the interrogator suggests one version or another of a ârepressedâ memory theory. Third, because of their cognitive disabilities and learned coping behaviors, the developmentally disabled are easily overwhelmed by stress. Once the suspect has accepted responsibility for the crime, the interrogator pushes him to supply the details of how and why he did it. The tenor of justice: criminal courts and the guilty plea process. As Welsh White notes, âthe system does not have safeguards that will prevent the jury from giving disproportionate weight to such confessionsâ (Ref. He may then begin to experience dissonance because he cannot reconcile the obvious contradiction between his knowledge that he is innocent and his belief that the police are truthfully reporting unmistakable evidence of his guilt. Interrogators may also try to make the admission appear to be voluntary, portraying the suspect as the agent of his own confession and themselves merely as its passive recipient. False confessions may also be used in attempts to avoid harsh sentences, for example if a person pleads guilty to a lesser offense that they did not actually commit. Most voluntary false confessions are the result of the person wanting to become famous. Instead, when today's police interrogators employ psychologically coercive techniques, they usually consist of (implicit or express) promises of leniency and threats of harsher treatment. A disturbing number of these cases involved false confessions given by innocent defendants during a psychologically coercive police interrogation. False confession cases always result from the way that an interrogation has taken place. As a result, âthe mentally ill are especially vulnerable either to giving false confessions or to misunderstanding the context of their confessions, thus making statements against their own best interests that an average criminal suspect would not makeâ (Ref. Interrogation is designed to be stressful and unpleasant, and it is more stressful and unpleasant the more intense it becomes and the longer it lasts. Once specific suspects are targeted, police interviews and interrogations are thereafter guided by the presumption of guiltâ (Ref. The content of and rhetorical force of a suspect's postadmission narrative explains, in part, why confessions are treated as such powerful evidence of guilt and sometimes lead to the prosecution and conviction of the innocent.7. When first accused, the innocent suspect thinks that his interrogators are genuinely mistaken, and he counters by attempting to reason with them and persuade them of his innocence. Ingram later realized that his "memories" of the crimes were false, but he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit and which may never actually happened, according to Bruce Robinson, the Coordinator for The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. This language of uncertainty is present in all persuaded false confessions. While the mentally ill are likely to make voluntary false confessions, they may also be easily coerced into making compliant ones. The consequences of these false confessions are disastrous for innocent individuals who are wrongfully convicted and incarcerated. For simplicity, researchers have dropped the various prefixes and simply refer to voluntary, compliant, and persuaded false confessions.7 It is important to understand that there are three conceptually distinct psychological processes at work in the production and elicitation of false confessions. So are the developmentally disabled or cognitively impaired, juveniles, and the mentally ill. These symptoms include faulty reality monitoring, distorted perceptions and beliefs, an inability to distinguish fact from fantasy, proneness to feelings of guilt, heightened anxiety, mood disturbances, and a lack of self control.9,12 In addition, the mentally ill may suffer from deficits in executive functioning, attention, and memory; become easily confused; and lack social skills such as assertiveness.30 These traits also increase the risk of falsely confessing. They are consistently one of the leading, yet most misunderstood, causes of error in the American legal system and thus remain one of the most prejudicial sources of false evidence that lead to wrongful convictions. 2008), who was accused and ultimately convicted of raping an elderly woman and was exonerated by DNA evidence many years later, police pressured Lowery to admit to having committed the rape because he had recently discovered that his wife was having an affair with another man, and they promised him psychological counseling in lieu of prison, if he admitted to that motive].7 In addition, interrogators encourage the suspect to attribute the decision to confess to an act of conscience and urge him to express remorse about committing the crime. Until the misconception that innocent suspects do not confess in response to psychological interrogation is dispelled, police detectives will continue to elicit false confessions that lead to wrongful convictions. For in most criminal cases, there was and is no DNA evidence available for testing. There are three sequential errors, which occur during a police-elicited false confession, that lead to a wrongful conviction. We will now look at the law of confessions; their strengths and weaknesses. Ofshe and Leo20 have identified âclassically coercive influence techniquesâ (i.e., threats and promises, explicit or implied) as the root cause of most compliant false confessions in the modern era. They tend to be immature, naively trusting of authority, acquiescent, and eager to please adult figures. 33, p 77). VOLUNTARY FALSE CONFESSIONS: A NEGLECTED AREA IN CRIMINAL ADMINISTRATION Exclusionary rules relating to criminal confessions find their basis in a single premise, insulation of the adversary system of jurisprudence from introduction of false and unreliable evidence. One of the biggest causes of wrongful convictions is the false assumption that no one would ever confess to a crime they didn’t commit. The detective's goal is to elicit a persuasive account that successfully incriminates the suspect and leads to his conviction. Kassin and wrightsman 1985 Proposed 3 types of false confessions: voluntary, coerced-compliant and coerced-internalised. Research tells us that there is no simple answer because many different psychological factors can lead someone to make a false confession. 21, p 1115). Three images of the trial: their implications for psychological research, in Psychology in the Legal Process. They are not, for example, likely to understand that the police detective who appears to be friendly is really their adversary or to grasp the long-term consequences of making an incriminating statement. Anchored Narratives: The Psychology of Criminal Evidence. Although 10 states (Alaska, Minnesota, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, and Nebraska) and the District of Columbia now require that police record interrogations in their entirety in some or all criminal cases, most police departments, as well as the FBI, still do not record interrogations, and there remains resistance to the idea in many quarters of law enforcement.60 Researchers have proposed other reforms as well, including improved police training about false confessions, pretrial reliability hearings to exclude false-confession evidence, putting time limits on interrogations, prohibiting certain interrogation techniques, greater provision of expert witness testimony and cautionary jury instructions at trial, and providing additional safeguards for vulnerable populations such as the developmentally disabled and juveniles.7. 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