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Today's New York Times takes an in-depth look
at the phenomenon of false confessions. The focus is on Eddie Lowery, a
man who confessed to rape and was imprisoned for 10 years until DNA
evidence proved his innocence. According to a new study, over 40 others
confessed to crimes that were later proven false by DNA evidence since
1976. Why do they do it? The study points to interrogation techniques,
some malicious others unintentional, that bring innocent suspects to
Shows the Role of Contamination, writes James Hart at Kansas City's Crime Scene blog: "How does this happen? Well, the study blames 'contamination'
-- where police either intentionally or accidentally introduce details
about the crime during interrogation. So, when the suspect 'confesses,'
their story is more convincing because they can repeat details they've
- Defendants Feel Absolutely Trapped, notes Ashby Jones at The Wall Street Journal
notion that such detailed confessions might be deemed voluntary because
the defendants were not beaten or coerced suggests that courts should
not simply look at whether confessions are voluntary, Mr. Neufeld said.
“They should look at whether they are reliable.”
involving a man named Eddie Lowery shows how contamination can occur.
After he was arrested and accused of committing a rape, Lowery took a
lie detector test to prove he was innocent, but the officers told him
that he had failed it.
“I didn’t know any way out of that, except
to tell them what they wanted to hear,” he recalled. “And then get a
lawyer to prove my innocence.”
- And Once Convicted, It's Difficult to Exculpate Oneself, writes the article author, John Schwartz, at The New York Times: "Proving innocence after a confession, however, is rare. Eight of the
defendants in Professor Garrett’s study had actually been cleared by DNA
evidence before trial, but the courts convicted them anyway."
- This Is Shameful, writes Melissa McEwan
at Shakesville: "When an innocent person is convicted and sent to
prison on the basis of a false confession, particularly for violent
crimes with high rates of repeat offenses (like rape), it isn't just
that his life (and his family's lives) are permanently altered, often in
devastating ways; the survivors of the crime(s) are denied real
justice, and the actual perpetrators of the crime(s) are left free to
continue offending, creating even more victims. This is an entirely
avoidable scenario, as long as only demonstrably reliable confessions
are used. But procedures that ensure demonstrably reliable confessions
are simply not in place in most of the country." She goes on to call for
more states to require videotaping of interrogations, something only 10
states do now.
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