False Confessions in Criminal Cases

A confession is the most powerful evidence of guilt that the prosecution can present in a criminal case.  In cases where a defendant confesses, the jury inevitably will ask "Why would anyone admit to something he did not do?"  Defendants are regularly convicted based on this question.  And yet, recent DNA evidence put forward by organizations like the Innocence Project have exonerated 351 (and counting) wrongly convicted people.  While it's stunning, 1 out of 4 of these people gave a false confession. 

One widely publicized instance of false confession happened in 1989, New York City's Central Park Jogger rape and assault case.  The victim was knocked unconscious and had no memory of the rape.  Five local teens were interrogated by police and each gave confessions admitting to being an accomplice to the rape.  The prosecution and the juries ignored conflicting and impossible statements made by the five teens, and convicted each one.  In 2001, a convicted serial killer admitted to being the rapist and acting alone.  DNA evidence and his verbal account matched all the details of the incident.  The five original convictions were ultimately overturned.

Certain police interrogation tactics contribute heavily to false confessions, notably those put forward in the Reid technique.  This technique involves lengthy interrogations that seek to isolate a defendant by leaving him or her alone for a period of time in the interrogation room, building rapport between the interrogator and the defendant, minimizing the criminal conduct at issue, making the evidence against the defendant seem overwhelming, and making promises of leniency for "cooperation".  If this does not work, investigators are even legally allowed to confront a defendant with fabricated evidence to see if the defendant will confess.

Any defendant trying to defend against criminal charges in the face of a false confession is in for an uphill battle.  But such a defense is possible.  If you find yourself or your loved ones in this situation, trust the law office of J. Robert Black to help you.