Tell Us What We Want To Hear
By Any Means Necessary
The docuseries When They See Us shows conclusively that the cops can coerce people into making false confessions. Those five young men were pressured and beaten into confessing falsely that they had committed rape. Nothing else proved their guilt. No eyewitnesses, no DNA evidence, no video or nothing else confirmed that any of them raped the victim.
False confessions like the ones in the Central Park Five case happens much more often than people realize. Studies have shown that 14% – 25% of wrongful convictions are based on false confessions. That’s a high number. It’s an alarming number to be truthful.
Why do people make false confessions? It’s a good question that researchers have asked too. They believe it’s a faulty three-step process used by the cops. The process begins with the cops identifying the wrong suspect and attempting to elicit a confession from him. The cops started wrong because they often misinterpreted body language, demeanor, and other signals. However, any confession from an innocent person will be false. If the cops start wrong they’ll inevitably end wrong.
Meanwhile, once the cops believe the innocent person is guilty, they commence an accusatorial interrogation that employs psychological coercion. They also use suggestive questioning, promises of leniency, deprivation, repeated questioning, long periods of interrogation, and much more. The cops will also be persistent and try to win the trust of the suspect. We’ve even seen the cops quote Scripture. These manipulative methods are especially useful with the youth, mentally ill, fatigued, hungry, or those who want the pressure to stop so they can go home.
It’s shameful, but as we said above, cops have tortured or even beat confessions from people. Once they believe a person is guilty, they become what some researches describe as tunnel vision, and will work to get a confession by any means necessary. They are locked in on their suspect, and nothing can change their minds. This focus may be acceptable had they identified the correct suspect from the beginning. But utilizing these techniques on innocent people is rephensible.
To add injury to insult, cops suggest facts to the suspect to create what researchers call a post-admission narrative to make the innocent person’s confession sound airtight. This post-admission narrative is essential because the innocent person doesn’t know the facts without help since he is innocent. His simple admission to the crime without stating how it happens is not very convincing and compelling. Therefore, the post-admission narrative is critical to convict the innocent person.
Last, researchers and common sense inform us that videotaping the interrogation will minimize the prospect of coercion. What’s even better than videotape, however, is consulting with a lawyer before speaking to the cops. The lawyer will likely not allow his client to talk with law enforcement, which will eliminate the chance of a false confession.
Jon B. Gould, Richard A. Leo, One Hundred Years Later: Wrongful Convictions after a Century of Research, 100 J. Crim. L. &
Criminology 825 (2010)