Tag: Saul Kassin

“We have ways of making you talk…..” Confessions and false confessions.

Submitted by Charlton Stanley (aka Otteray Scribe), Guest Blogger

“It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.”
– Sir William Blackstone KC SL, Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765)

Sir William Blackstone
Sir William Blackstone

One of the oldest cliché movie scenes of the past half century is the Gestapo agent, wearing a monocle, slapping a riding crop against his gloved hand, saying with a leer, “Ve haf vays of making you talk…..” Unfortunately, that caricature figure has come to life in in recent years, taking the form of rogue psychologists, unscrupulous investigators, and even the Vice President of the United States.

My motivation to write this is because of a phone call a few weeks ago. An old case I worked on back in the 1980s resurfaced with that phone call out of the blue. Of all the cases I ever worked on, the one I got the call about has been the most bothersome. It involved a murder, a coerced confession, a judge with a troubled psychological burden of his own, and a jury that would not believe confessions could be coerced. Plus, a district attorney with a reputation of wanting to win at any cost. Since this case has resurfaced and the new investigation is still under way, I can’t say too much about it now. As details become public, I will be writing more.

Let me start off by saying that most confessions may be legitimate, but since we have no way of knowing how many are false, no solid statistics are possible. The simple fact that so far, over three hundred people have been released from prison due to wrongful convictions is enough to give one pause. It is reasonable, based on the number exonerated so far, to assume there are a lot of them. We just don’t know which ones. Not all those overturned convictions were due to false confessions, but about a fourth of them were. If a defendant does make a false confession, and there is solid DNA evidence showing the defendant to be innocent, juries convict over 80% of the time, despite the physical evidence. One thing I find curious is the fact some prosecutors continue to prosecute cases even after the physical evidence proves they have the wrong person.

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