Free «False Confessions Paper» Essay Sample

This paper is devoted to false confessions, something that happens every day, in almost every investigation. The police try to make a suspect to confess in all the possible ways. The most common ways are: lying to a suspect about the process of investigation, or about evidence found, or about the testimony of a witness. On one hand that is not fair to use human feelings to get the result, because such a treatment may ruin person’s life. On the other hand, this may be the only way to find the truth or some new evidence. There are several types of false confession:

-voluntary false confession (when a person false confess to become famous, like in the Lindberg kidnapping case, when almost 200 people confessed in kidnapping the child of a famous aviator Charles Lindberg);

-compliant false confession (when a person realizes that false confession is the only way out, there is no other solution. For example, the case of 1989, when a jogger from the New York Central Park was beaten); (Central Park Jogger Case (1989), n.d.)

-internalized false confessions (when a suspect believes investigators, who are pushing him or her to confess). (Weigel, 8)

To make a suspect false confess, investigators use different techniques of psychological pressure, besides the atmosphere, the surroundings play a great role in the process of confessing. Fred E. Inbau says that an interrogation should be held in a bare room, where there is only a suspect and an interrogator; besides the room should be dark, with dull walls, almost no light. In such a room a person becomes depressed, has bad feelings, his or her mood is spoiled; such a room makes a person feel like an enemy to those who are around. Such an atmosphere is meant to false confessions, a person in such a room thinks that there is no way out, and only a confession may help him or her. (Inbau, 1)

On the other hand, to get a false confession from a suspect is not as easy as it may seem. In the article “True Crimes, False Confessions” the authors, professors Saul Kassin and Gisli Gudjonsson, distinguish several steps of a successful investigation (Kassin & Gudjonsson, 2):

  1. Confronts the suspect with unwavering assertions of guilt
  2. Develops ‘themes’ that psychological justify or excuse the crime
  3. Interrupts all efforts at denial and defense
  4. Overcomes the suspect’s factual, moral and emotional objections
  5. Ensures that the passive suspect does not withdraw
  6. Shows sympathy and understanding and urges the suspect to cooperate
  7. Offers a face-saving alternative construal of the alleged guilty act
  8. Gets the suspect to recount the details of his or her crime
  9. Converts the latter statement into a full written or oral confession

If the interrogation includes all the steps, there is a high possibility that a suspect confesses, even if it is a false confession. These steps let the investigator press the suspect, changing facts, witness’ testimony, and evidence in the way he or she wants. Everything is done to get a confession, to close the case. One may think that it is not very difficult to deny everything, to go on telling the truth, not to break, but the reality is worse. An investigator may not use the physical strength, but nevertheless, a person false confesses. This happens, because an investigator knows how to manipulate and press psychologically to get what he or she wants. According to professor Drizin, there are several kinds of moral pressure:

-the accused conscience (“if you tell us the truth, you will get freedom”);

- religious belief (“you will be saved”, “God forgives you”);

-pointing out that during the trial the accused will be treated much better (“the judge will take into account that you have confessed”);

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-the intimidation to harm physically. (Drizin, 1)

Later on the professor explains the aims that are to be achieved through such kinds of interrogation: “These tactics are designed to destroy the suspect’s confidence that he will emerge from the interrogation without being harmed and to make the suspect think that he is powerless to bring an end to the unless he confesses” (Drizin, 2009) need page #

On of the most common ways to get a false confession during the interrogation is a lie. It is not prohibited by the law that the interrogator is not allowed to lie. The history knows a lot of cases where the lie was used, and thus the innocent were accused in committing the crime. For example, the case of Meredith Kercher, who was killed in 2007. Her friend, and roommate, Amanda Knox was accused in murder. The interrogation lasted for five days, without any break. During the interrogation, the police officer changed the evidence and facts as he wanted. The problem was that Amanda could not remember anything about that night. She was confusing facts and telling one story after another. Firstly she insisted that she had spent the night at her boyfriend’s and they were watching a movie and smoking marijuana. Then she tried to prove the interrogator that she had went to the bar where she had met Patric Lumumba. After some time they went to Meredith’s, and while Amanda was waiting for Patric she had heard Meredith screaming. Amanda decided to find out what was going on and when she came into Meredith’s room, she had found her body. It is obvious that Amanda’s interrogation is one of the longest in the history of criminal law. It is obvious that during such a long interrogation, the police could have used all the methods of interrogation known. The interrogators were threatening her, lying that her boyfriend had confessed, using physical power and stating that she was under the influence of drugs. Under such a pressure Amanda confessed, though the evidence presented at the court were not direct. Amanda was arrested and imprisoned, because the police were too lazy to find the direct evidence, to find the real murderer, instead they had found the suspect and pressed the girl until she confessed. (Squires, 1)

The other case which is worth to be mentioned is the case of Peter Reilly. He was accused in murdering and raping fifty one year old woman, his mother. The police have found the “murderer” very quick, on the crime scene. In 1973 Peter woke up and came into the bedroom of his parents, where he had found his mother lying in a pool of blood. He immediately called the police and when they came they arrested him. The eighteen year old boy was interrogated for twenty five hours, and finally confessed, because he had no memory of committing the crime. During this interrogation police officers lied to the guy. They told him that the first lie-detector check, that was made right after they have arrived to the police office, was a total lie. There is no doubt that the policemen were unfair and did not study the evidence, they did not even collect them. They have found the only one who has seen the dead woman, her son, and accused him in committing the crime. On the other hand, the emotional state of the guy helped the police to accuse him, because he was depressed after his mother death and right away he was taken to the police for interrogation. In my opinion, the interrogators were playing with his feelings, because they knew that in such an emotional state, after losing a loved one, the guy would confess in anything. (Lender, 1)

There is a statistics which shows what categories of people are likely to false confess. Here belong teenagers from fourteen up to seventeen and mental ill or those who has low IQ. There are some cases, when such factors were used by interrogators to make a person false confess. For example, the case of Martin Tankleff, a seventeen year old became a suspect in killing his parents. In 1990, on the first school day, Martin came into his parents’ room and found his other dead in pools of blood and his father dying. The guy called nine one one immediately and gave his father the first aid, but when the police came they arrested him. The police focused on him because he was the only one to have been found at the crime scene. During the interrogation, the officer told the guy that his father woke from coma and accused him in killing his mother. Besides that, they have presented some evidence, like Martin’s hair on his mother’s fingers. During the interrogation the police officers were using Martin’s emotional state, and telling him, that it would be better if he confessed if he told the truth. The point is that there was no truth; Martin did not know who had killed his parents. (McClure, 2)

On the other hand, the police have focused their attention on one person and sis not want to collect the other evidence, which may have been indirect, or prove that Martin was innocent. Martin’s father had a bagel-store partner, who owned him half a million dollars. The police was told that the evening before the murder, that partner threatened Martin’s parents. Moreover, that partner was the last guest at the Tankleffs that night. A week after the crime, the business partner faked his own death to be able to disguise his own name and to run to California. It is obvious that the business partner should have become the main suspect in this case. This can be proved also by the testimonies of Martin and his brother-in-law. Nevertheless the police firstly interrogated Martin. Instead of letting him go with his father to the hospital and trying to find Jerry Steuerman, Martin’s father partner, they took Martin to the police office.

Another group of people that may false confess are mentally ill or those who has low IQ level. The point is that they do not realize anything, they believe the interrogator. If the interrogator shows some evidence or states that the accused has committed the crime, they believe him. Besides, it is easier for the police to find a mental ill person and make him or her repeat their view of the crime, than try to collect evidence, look for witnesses and trying to understand the motives of an offender. The bright example of such practice in interrogating may be the case of Jessie Misskelley, Jr., Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin, who were accused in murdering three persons in 1993. This case can be the most significant, if we talk about such a group of people who false confess, because Jessie was not only mentally ill, but also his IQ level was sixty seven points. He was interrogated for twelve hours, and he confessed, although there was no direct evidence presented, Jessie had no motive to kill three schoolchildren, there was no connection between the “murderer” and the victims; Jessie was not allowed to meet his parents or counsel. Therefore, he had no other choice but to confess. If one takes a closer look at the record of Jessie’s interrogation, it becomes obvious that Jessie was threatened and the interrogator made him confess. Jessie was not the smartest person that is why the interrogator asked only open questions, when Jessie had to answer only “yes” or “no”. In the end Jessie repeated the whole story. In my opinion, his interrogation looked like a kind of rehearsal before the trial: he was repeating over and over again after the interrogator and at the trial he repeated the whole story one last time. (

The cases which were shown as examples in this paper, are not exceptions, it became a common practice to make accused false confess. On the one hand, it is good for the police statistics, how many cases they have investigated and how many criminals are behind the bars. Perhaps, it makes the life of a police officer easier, but it does not make a life of an ordinary citizen easier. Police was meant to protect ordinary people, but instead they arrest and imprison innocent and real criminals feel free to go on committing crimes. In my opinion, the government should take some measures to prevent that. It was proposed, and not once, to make the recording of an interrogation obligatory, but it was not done, perhaps, because this will prove that interrogators act unprofessionally and they should be behind the bars, and not innocent people. On the other hand, people’s psychology plays a great role in false confession. The police officers are humans and they believe, like everyone would believe, that a person found at the crime scene s guilty, thus they are trying not to collect all the evidence, but to find the evidence to prove that the person seen there is a criminal. On the other hand, people are taught to believe the police. Police are meant to protect us from everything, sometimes even from ourselves. That is why when a police officer, an interrogator says that someone a person is guilty, he or she begins to believe that. Police are a kind of authority to us, we may not believe government, but we do believe the police. In my opinion, some measures should be taken by the government to protect the citizens. In some states (Alaska, Minnesota, Illinois, Maine, New Mexico, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Maryland and Nebraska) the law about recording the interrogation was adopted, but still it is not implemented, moreover such laws are ignored not only by the police, but also by the FBI. (Weigel, 24)

There are no strict rules, or advices what should be done, but in my opinion, the police, as well as attorney should distinguish between false and true confessions, because they influence people’s life. It is obvious that if a person false confessed and then imprisoned, the real criminal is free and he or she may repeat the crime. No doubt, that there are only psychological motives to false confesses, for example to protect beloved ones; but it frequently happens that mental ill people false confess, because they believe everything the investigator says. The police are meant to protect citizens and not to threaten them, because everyone may be pressed and false confess. It is in human mind to believe the police, because everybody knows that they protect us that is why all that they say is right. That is why people false confess while listening to the investigator. The government should take some measures to prevent reining the chaos in the society, when innocent people are imprisoned and criminals are allowed to commit offenses over and over again.


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