Confessions: Police interrogation
A confession is probably the most damaging kind of evidence that you can give to the police, and will surely be presented in court in front of a jury. It is almost as bad as blowing into the Breathalyzer when you know you’ve had more than two drinks. The way in which a confession is obtained is important in determining whether or not it is legitimate, and if it should even be allowed into evidence in court. With the goal of getting a confession, police are tempted to use whatever tricks they have up their sleeves, whether it be through intimidation or manipulation, etc.
These tactics taught in police training often times do work in getting true confessions, but along with those comes the price of many more false confessions. A good example of this is the well known case of the “Central Park Jogger” in 1989; five individuals falsely confessed to rape but were later exonerated in 2002 when the real rapist admitted to the crime. They recently received a $40 million settlement from New York City for their improper conviction and time served.
What Kinds of False Confessions are There?
Voluntary false confessions are voluntarily without an interrogation. The individual may want the notoriety or to be in the public spotlight. An example of this may be the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932; it is reported that over 200 people falsely confessed to the kidnapping. Along with most highly publicized criminal investigations, come many false confessions to the crime.
Coerced-compliant confessions are confessions in which the innocent suspect knowingly gives a false confession in order to end the interrogation, out of fear, or because of a promised advantage by the police for giving a confession. Compliance can be referred to as an inconsistency between perceived public behavior and a private opinion; these individuals privately know they are innocent, but still choose to give a confession for various reasons. A well known study “false estimates in line-judging test”, which was conducted by Asch in 1956, shows just how susceptible most people are to compliance; many people knowingly gave a wrong answer to avoid being singled out. This situation cannot even compare to the feeling one gets when being manipulated, threatened, or deprived of sleep, during an interrogation. Although “third-degree tactics”, such as extreme brutality, food and sleep deprivation, or torture, are not supposed to be used in modern interrogations in the United States, these do still occur to a lesser extent.
Coerced-internalized confessions are confessions in which the innocent individual confesses to a crime, and then actually comes to believe that they did in fact commit the crime. Everyone manages stress individually, and depending on who is doing the interrogating, who is being interrogated, and a number of other factors such as how those individuals manage stress, various reactions may occur. Everyone while respond to that situation in a different way. Those who are highly suggestible may over time become confused and begging to doubt themselves because of the seemingly overly-confident police officer standing in front of them telling them that they committed the crime and should just admit what they have done.
False Confessions and Police Interrogation Tactics
Although false confessions are not frequent compared to the amount of true confessions that are obtained, it is estimated that 30-40 people every year in the United States alone are convicted of a crime in which they did not commit due to a false confession. That is 30-40 convictions too many. Our philosophy is supposed to be that we would rather let 100 guilty people free than convict 1 innocent person. Maybe our society’s values have changed, because as of right now, the tactics of interrogation being used by law enforcement are helping convict the innocent.