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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is That Confession Reliable?

There may be more innocent people in jail due to false confessions than was  previously suspected.

A new study, quoted in an article in the New York Times, asserts that it is possible for entirely and totally innocent people to falsely confess to crimes they did not commit.

The article cites certain personality characteristics that could make one more vulnerable to being pressured to falsely confess: mental disability, being "easily led" or being young. This should prompt concerns as to how young, pre-teen and teenage suspects are handled, whether in school disciplinary or juvenile court proceedings.

Of course, certain police and prosecutor interrogation techniques seem designed to elicit a desired response rather than ascertain real facts, so the concerns as to innocent people falsely confessing should not be limited to certain "more vulnerable" segments of the population.

I will repeat a concern stated before on Crime, Politics and Policy: Law enforcement and prosecutors must emphasize fact-finding, and be willing to put in the hard and often unrewarding work, to ensure that the wrong suspect -- the entirely innocent person -- is not targeted, investigated, arrested and jailed, for a crime he didn't commit. Too often, the authorities take the easy way out, the path of least resistance, and such an approach leads to corner cutting, a tolerance for shoddy practices and eventually a tolerance for fudging evidence, prejudging the innocent and covering up acts of official misconduct (or mistakes). All of these actions commonly lead to innocent people being victimized by the people sworn to protect them...while the real culprits remain at large and able to terrorize the rest of society.

Eric Dixon is a New York lawyer who handles investigations and civil rights and constitutional law matters. He is available for comment at and by phone at 917-696-2442.

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