Tuesday, April 17, 2012

False Confessions - How Are They Obtained and Why Do They Occur?

If you ever find yourself confronted with police interrogation you should be very careful. The tactics employed to interrogate and obtain confessions may sometimes lead those with "nothing to hide" into a precarious situation because they said the wrong thing.

Despite the fact that the public in general believes that only guilty people confess, false confessions do in fact occur. In a study by Prof. Richard Ofshe of the University of California at Berkeley, which analyzed 250 cases where a suspect confessed but the confession was later shown to be false, he found a 73% conviction rate.

First lets look at the methods the police often use when interrogating suspects. The first thing they will likely do is to administer a non-accusatory interview lasting some 30-45 minutes. This may build rapport and encourage the interviewee to be comfortable sharing information. They will likely then take a short break before resuming the nine-step interrogation.

The next step will often be to tell the suspect that they positively know, without a doubt, that he is the perpetrator. They will likely offer him at least one possible moral excuse for committing the crime. They will seem sympathetic, and offer a reason to the suspect that may "justify" the crime.

Third, whenever the suspect offers a denial, tries to elaborate on that denial, or repeats that denial, they will likely cut him off and return to the "moral excuse". This serves as a psychological cue that encourages the suspect to accept the physical responsibility for what happened. This allows the police a psychological advantage by not permitting a suspect to deny his involvement, and steers the suspect toward beginning to justify it instead.

Fourth, they are taught to overcome a suspects objections. Denials are general statements such as "I didn't do it". Whereas, objections are more elaborate and detailed statements, such as "I was at work when that happened". The interrogator is taught to shoot down every objection until the suspect starts to become quiet and withdraw from active participation in the questioning.

Fifth, they will use varying methods to retain the suspects full attention and keep him actively in the process. These may be such things as moving closer to the suspect, patting him on the shoulder, or acting very sympathetic.

The sixth step that interrogators are taught, is to give positive reinforcement when the suspect gives eye contact, and get him into a more remorseful mood by playing upon that suspects particular weaknesses. It may be religion, sympathy for the victim, or the a sense of decency and honor, just to name a few examples.

Seventh, they will use alternative questions and loaded questions, such as "was this your first time to do something like this, or how many times has this happened before?" I have actually seen parents and/or spouses use this same type of questioning to great effect.

Interrogators are taught to give the suspect two possible alternatives about how the crime was committed, both being incriminating, but with one having a face saving device in it while the other implies a repulsive or callous motivation. An example might be "you forced her to have sex with you because you are a pervert who gets off on hunting women, OR you forced her to have sex with you because she was dressed provocatively and acting flirty with you and teased you to the an unfair point with no intentions of having sex".

Eighth, once the suspect admits to any incriminating behavior investigators are taught to have the suspect relate any details to the offense, and ninth, they will attempt to convert that to writing.

Those are the basic nine steps that interrogators are taught to use when questioning suspects. They will, however, also employ other varying tactics. These might include such things as using straightback and uncomfortable chairs, keeping writing utensils out of sight until time to use them so as not to remind the suspect of the legal significance of what is occurring, using vague terms such as "it" or "that" instead of terms such as "murder" or "robbery", and having a "case file" with them to give the impression there is something incriminating inside.

If they catch the suspect in contradictions, even trivial things, they will likely point out that they have caught him "lying" and that it is evidence of guilt. Also, the courts have approved that they can totally fabricate forensic, eyewitness, and polygraph evidence. Yes, that is right. They can lie, and they can make things up.

Most often these techniques lead to false confessions because the suspect either became hopeless and just wanted to go home and end the interrogation, or they twist the suspect around so much that he actually starts to believe he is guilty.

These are just some of the tactics used when interrogating a suspect, and how they can lead to false confessions. So remember if you are charged with a crime being questioned by police is fraught with peril, even if you have "nothing to hide". Also, remember if you are serving on a jury, people that confess are not always guilty, and the circumstances surrounding a confession may be important and demand consideration before you make your decision.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Welcome to The Cornett Law Firm, PSC blog

In this blog I hope to discuss legal issues, cases, and events that relate to my law practice. Here is the firm's location and contact information:

155 East Main St. | Suite 220
Lexington, KY 40507
Office: (859) 255-ATTY
Fax: (859) 252-0188