Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Part One: Why false confessions have been found in so many cases where people have been cleared by DNA? Researchers Douglas Keene and Rita Handrich have some answers.

ARTICLE: "Only the guilty would confess to crimes": Understanding the mystery of false confessions," by Douglas Keene and Rita Handrich, published in  "The Jury Expert," on November 28, 2012. (Tomorrow, Part two: A  response to this article by four highly experienced commentators on the  American  criminal justice system.

GIST: "When someone confesses to committing a crime, it only stands to reason that they are guilty. After all, why would they confess if they didn’t do it )? The common sense of this is so powerful that juries tend to weigh the confession (even if recanted after legal counsel is provided) as the single most compelling piece of evidence. Saul Kassin lists the three major forms of false confessions: Voluntary confessions: This is a confession made to protect someone else, made because you are delusional and believe you did the crime, or made to attract attention to yourself. Examples include the 200 people who confessed to kidnapping the Lindbergh baby, or more recently, John Mark Karr’s confession to killing JonBenet Ramsey or Amanda Knox’s false confession to and subsequent conviction for murdering her roommate in Italy. [Kassin says the police do a good job of identifying these false confessions and they are unlikely to result in wrongful convictions.] Internalized false confessions: This type of confession can happen when interrogation eventually persuades the accused they did something that they objectively know did not occur. If the suspect is a juvenile, mentally handicapped, experiencing extreme grief, or sleep-deprived–under the pressure of the interrogation session, they can actually come to believe they committed the crime and thus confess. [This type of confession can and has resulted in wrongful convictions.] Compliant false confessions: Finally, the largest category of false confessions occurs when (even though the confessor knows he or she is innocent) they break down and give a confession to escape the interrogation process itself. [Kassin says the boys confessing to raping the Central Park Jogger are an example of this sort of confession. They were tried, found guilty in 1990 and imprisoned until the actual rapist confessed in 2002 and DNA evidence showed him to be the real perpetrator.] But what could possibly happen in the interrogation process that would lead one to the point of confessing to, in many cases, heinous crimes? While there are certainly personality variables that play into false confessions, most people in the legal system (judges, attorneys and jurors) under-estimate the power of the situational forces acting upon police suspects. Even “normal” people without impairments that reduce resilience (like mental illness) can be worn down by an interrogation and give false confessions.  What an innocent (and many guilty) interrogation subject wants to do is to explain their innocence, and be reassured that their explanation is valid. The “wearing down process” in interrogation thwarts such attempts on the detainee’s part. Instead, the interrogation focuses on the detainee’s wish to be understood, but from the perspective of guilt: how they want to be seen as cooperative, how they want to share with the interrogator a less culpable sense that the detainee must have been caught up in the moment and behaved atypically. As part of this process, the interrogator reassures them that they will be seen as a better person if they cooperate, that the legal outcome could be improved if they confess, or tells the detainee that co-perpetrators, if any, are also being interrogated and that he or she may want to assign blame to them before they assign it to the detainee."

The entire article can be found at:



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The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:


Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:


Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to: hlevy15@gmail.com

Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog.