Confession Contamination

Written By: Reid
Jul 23, 2013
In an article entitled, Combating Contamination in Confession Cases, the authors carefully examine the problem of false confession cases, with a particular emphasis on the problem of DNA exoneration cases in which the defendants had falsely confessed, and yet their confession contained details of the crime that only the guilty person should have known.

The initial focus of the article is a review of the book, Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, by University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett, in which he carefully examined the first 250 DNA exoneration cases.

In their review the authors state the following about Garrett's research:

"Garrettís analysis and findings concerning false confessions are nothing short of groundbreaking. At the beginning of his foray into the case materials, Garrett expected that the DNA exoneratesí confessions would lack detail and be riddled with errors (pp 18ñ19). Stunningly, he found just the opposite: in thirty-eight of the forty false confessions he studied, the confessions were detailed and ofter factually accurate descriptions of the criminal acts (pp 19ñ20). If these men are truly innocent, Garrett asks the reader, how is it that they were able to give such detailed and accurate confessions? His answer is that their DNA-proven false confessions were ìcontaminatedî forms of evidenceóas tainted and unreliable as contaminated physical evidence."

"In the confession context, contamination is the transfer of inside informationónonpublic details about the crime that only the true perpetrator could have knownófrom one person to another person during a police investigation.32 The problem of contamination in false confession cases usually arises during interrogation itself, when the interrogator pressures a suspect to accept a particular account of the crime storyóone that usually squares with the interrogatorís preordained theory of how the crime occurred. The interrogator then uses leading questions, deliberately or inadvertently, to suggest specific facts about the crime to the suspect, which are then parroted back in the form of a confession. The presence of these types of specific facts in the suspectís confession lends it credibility and creates an all-important illusion of corroboration."

As we have emphasized in our training and publications for decades, it is critical for interrogators to withhold relevant details of the crime so that when the suspect offers those details they can be used to substantiate the veracity of his statements.

Continue Reading