The Situationist

The Situation of False Confessions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 15, 2010

Deborah Davis and Richard Leo recently posted their paper, “Three Prongs of the Confession Problem: Issues and Proposed Solutions” on SSRN.  (forthcoming in The Future of Evidence (Epstein, Jules, ed.) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Many cases could not be successfully prosecuted without a confession, and, in the absence of a confession, many would be much more costly to investigate and to develop other evidence sufficient to convict. Responding to this pressure to reliably elicit confessions from their suspects, the police have developed sophisticated psychological techniques to accomplish two goals: to induce suspects to submit to questioning without an attorney, and to induce them to confess. Unfortunately, these methods are sufficiently powerful to induce false as well as true confessions and to render them involuntary. Further, because they are based upon often subtle, yet sophisticated weapons of influence, their coercive power sometimes goes unrecognized by those who must judge their voluntariness or validity. This yields a crucially important yet often unrecognized three-pronged problem with confession evidence – voluntariness, validity, and prejudicial impact. In this chapter, the authors first briefly review the nature of modern interrogation tactics, and then turn to consideration of the three-pronged confession problem, systemic barriers to recognizing and addressing the problem, and some proposed solutions.

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You can download the paper for free here.  To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see”The Situation of False Confessions,” The Painful Situation of Guilt,” A Situationist View of Criminal Prosecutors,”  The Justice Department, Milgram, & Torture,” “Why Torture? Because It Feels Good (at least to “Us”),” “The Situation of Solitary Confinement,” The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” “Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” and “Lessons Learned from the Abu Ghraib Horrors.”

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