Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Police Interrogations And False Admissions

I'm using a broader term in my title because many of those who study false admissions given during police interrogations look only at those who come into contact with the police because they are suspected of committing a crime.

Richard A. Leo, a law professor at the University of San Francisco has written the book, Police Interrogations and American Justice which includes the subject of false confessions. Understanding this subject matter is important, but equally important -- but often overlooked -- is understanding that a recantation of a criminal allegation is also a confession. The same techniques which leads to false confessions of guilt by crime suspects leads to false recantations.

I haven't read Professor Leo's book and I hope he is aware enough to see how those who report crimes can be easily treated as if they are the real criminals, often without the basic legal rights given to crime suspects and defendants. These interrogations often are labeled as simple interviews when they are in reality hostile interrogations.

The subset of false admissions called false confessions are accepted by most people as more than a defense attorney inspired myth even if they assume false confessions are extremely rare. This makes sense because when someone convicted of murder based on a false confession is exonerated, it is a very public black eye. It also makes sense when someone is coerced into making a false confession of raping and murdering his 3-year-old daughter wins a $15.5 million civil judgment even though this father was cleared before going to trial.

Less public are false admissions to the police related to a report of being a crime victim. Often when these false recantations happen during police interrogations no forensic evidence from the real crime is collected and the investigation of the true allegations are stopped cold. Only rarely do these cases get officially acknowledged and when they do they don't get the level of media attention given to false confessions.

For some people there is no harm to the crime victim if that person isn't wrongly charged with filing a false police report because justice is between the state and the perpetrator. The victim is reduced to nothing more than a witness. This is a dangerous view since it minimizes the impact of having the truth treated like it is a malicious lie and it minimizes the real life impact of a rapist who is aided and abetted by hostile interviewers.

The book Cry Rape: The True Story of One Woman's Harrowing Quest for Justice by Bill Lueders follows one such case where the Madison, Wisconsin police decided that a woman raped by a stranger at knifepoint was lying. Without this rape victim's determination, the DNA evidence wouldn't have been processed and a known sex offender, Joseph Bong, wouldn't have been charged and in 2004 convicted of raping her. Only when the book was complete in 2006 did the city of Madison offer to pay her $35,000 for the way she was mistreated.

Most of the defense lawyers who are frantic in their opinions about how to prevent or discredit false confessions don't seem to know or care about false recantations. This doesn't serve them well since it makes them appear to be only selectively in favor of police tactics which get accurate results. Every false recantation which isn't exposed makes those who report crimes, especially rape, falsely appear to be less reliable witnesses to juries than they really are.

Also important to understand are how these police techniques can be used by criminals to break down their victim's psychological defenses to gain a false statement of consent.

Any reasonable person should accept that someone who has just been raped is in no position to consent to the first rapist's buddy who asks the traumatized woman whether she will choose to be raped by him or whether she will choose to have consensual sex. When that woman bargains with her soon-to-be rapist in order to minimize her trauma, her defensive action should not be mistaken for legal consent. Yet an appeals court in Maryland viewed this response as legal consent.

I'm all for understanding how police interrogations can go wrong, but I am against tunnel vision understandings.

Hat tip: Deliberations

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:03 AM   0 comments links to this post


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