Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Under pressure

Sad story in the New York Times today.

which takes a look at a study done of those who have confessed to a crime which they did not commit. I have to admit while sad and tragic that innocent people confess to crimes they have not been involved in the study itself is brilliant and sheds a lot of light on an area relatively unexplored. Why would an innocent person confess? Not only to minor crimes but also to charges such a murder and rape. I mentioned only in passing in an earlier blog post about the pressure one must feel to confess. In my case it was to just have done with a simple parking ticket. By would such feelings really hold true to those threatened with incarceration? Apparently so, in at least 250 documented cases. Many of these involved defendants who had some limited mental capabilities, in some cases they were young, but more than anything the confessions seem to be driven by the investigators. They were not merely "I did it" confessions but detailed descriptions of the acts and facts surrounding the case. In almost all instances this information could only have come from the examining officers who "helped to describe" how the crime took place. It makes chilling reading especially given that a confession usually closes the book on a defendant's case. Beyond the miscarriages of justice why is the relevant? Well the UK is considering reducing sentences of offenders who confess their guilt, not only before trial as currently happens, but at the earliest opportunity when apprehended by police. As this study makes clear, such a path may open the door to more false confessions and greater injustice.

You can access the study here.

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