|Michael Crowe, age 14, falsely confessing to murdering his sister|
- Fingerprint experts who were told the suspect had confessed were more likely to change their opinion and make an incorrect match, as compared with experts who were told the suspect was already in custody at the time of the crime. (1)
- Polygraph examiners were significantly more likely to opine that an inconclusive chart showed deception when they were told the suspect had confessed. (2)
|Bizarre case of multiple false confessions and prosecutions|
That's not to mention egregious cases of intentional fraud in forensic laboratories that pop up with alarming regularity, such as a case in Boston, Massachusetts currently garnering headlines. There, a lab worker with allegedly bogus credentials as a chemist intentionally fabricated positive drug test results. Over a 9-year period, Annie Dookhan tested an estimated 60,000 drug samples confiscated from about 34,000 criminal defendants. Dookhan reportedly admitted writing reports listing samples as positive for illicit drugs even though she had never tested them; sometimes, "if a sample tested negative, she would take known cocaine from another sample and add it to the negative sample to make it test positive for cocaine," according to the Huffington Post's account. Dookhan has been arrested and the lab is temporarily shuttered.
Amanda Knox, wrongly convicted in Italy"Supported by 100-plus years of basic psychology and the research reviewed herein, confession-induced corroboration inflation challenges a core premise in law. Both pretrial corroboration requirements and a harmless error analysis on appeal rest on the assumption that the corroborating evidence on record is nonredundant and independent of the confession. It now appears that this assumption is often incorrect, that the other evidence may be tainted by confession, and that the appearances of corroboration at pretrial and the sufficiency of evidence on appeal may be more illusory than real."
- POLICE close the investigation, deem the case solved, and overlook exculpatory information, even when (as Richard Leo and his colleagues have shown) the confession is internally inconsistent or contradicted by independent evidence.
- PROSECUTORS stubbornly cling to false confession cases, refusing to admit the possibility of their falsity even when DNA testing unequivocally excludes the confessor. (The New York Times Magazine has more on this phenomenon, describing -- in an article titled "The prosecution's case against DNA" -- the improbable arguments manufactured by prosecutors to explain away negative DNA findings.)
- Perhaps most dangerously, even DEFENSE ATTORNEYS succumb to the allure. Individuals who falsely confess are much more likely to be pressured into accepting a guilty plea, which bars future appeals. In an archival study conducted by Kassin and a colleague of 273 DNA exoneration cases, those based on false confessions were three times as likely to involve bad lawyering.
|Matias Reyes, the actual rapist |
in the Central Park Five jogger
wrongful conviction case
Police interrogations: AP-LS issues landmark white paper (March 14, 2010)
Clueless'science' (guest essay by Jennifer L. Mnookin, Feb. 19, 2009)
Historical review of false confessions (Nov. 8, 2010)
Damning reconstruction of notorious false confession case of Central Park Five (March 29, 2012)
Canada: How false confessions occur (Nov. 27, 2007)
New study on background factors in false confessions (Aug. 25, 2007)