HomeCrimeHartman CaseDissenting OpinionWhen the innocent confess

When the innocent confess

richard_leoDNA exonerations in dozens of capital cases prove that people sometimes falsely confess.

Still, self-incrimination someone who's innocent goes against common sense. It goes against what many of us, including justice-minded jurors, may be prepared to accept sometimes happoens after a blameless suspect freely agrees to talk with police.

Circumstances surrounding false confessions have long interested criminal justice researchers. With the recent appellate decision reviving Eugene Vent's quest for a new trial, a pair studies offers insight:

For starters, one study found that an innocent person may actually be less able to cope with a determined interrogator, confident in his ability fo pre-assess a suspect's guilt. In such circmstances, refusal to own up to a crime may be taken as suspicous, denials perceived as evasive, adding to the investigator's certainty that he's facing the "right" suspect. 

icon Miranda Rights: The Power of Innocence. (1.44 MB)

In 1999, defense expert Richard Leo was blocked from explaining to jurors why Vent's statement to police fit the pattern of a what the USC law professor terms a "persuaded confession."

That ruling-- now central to Vent's revived post-conviction relief argument-- reflected trial Judge Ben Esch's view that Leo's expertise rested on a theory lacking the credibility of supporting empircal data. In the aftermath, Leo partnered with another criminal justice researcher and launched the largest study ever conducted to identify and examine circumstances surrounding confessions to involvement in major crimes later proven to be false.

The result, detailed in 117-page 2004 for North Carolina law Review, yields numbers and case examples supporting Leo's theory about persuaded confessions. Is it persuasive? Readers decide.

icon The Problem of False Confessions in a Post-DNA World (6.1 MB)



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