In his new book entitled, Duped, Professor Saul Kassin discusses why some innocent people confess to crimes that they did not commit. In almost every instance false confessions were the result of investigator misconduct. Here are a few examples:
Marty Tankleff "17 years old, interrogated for hours, police faked a phone call from the hospital of his "father" saying Marty committed the murder (of his mother)"
Huwe Burton "after hours of being threatened"
Amanda Knox "was coerced into confessing the murder of her roommate" [she was interrogated by police in Italy]
John Kogurt "after an 18 hour interrogation"
Barry Laughman "a man with a capacity of a ten year old after police falsely told him they found his fingerprints at the scene"
Central Park Five (jogger case) "after [42*] hours of interrogation"
* in the Netflix series about the Central Park Five one of
the investigators describes the interrogation of the 5 juveniles as
follows: "You squeezed statements out of them, after 42 hours of
questioning and coerciveness without food, bathroom breaks, withholding
It is interesting to note that in each of these cases if the core principles of the Reid Technique had been followed, false confessions would not have occurred.
The best way to avoid false confessions is to conduct interrogations in accordance with the guidelines established by the courts, and to adhere to the following practices:
Do not make any promises of leniency
Do not threaten the subject with any physical harm or inevitable consequences
Do not conduct interrogations for an excessively lengthy period of time
Do not deny the subject any of their rights
Do not deny the subject the opportunity to satisfy their physical needs
Withhold information about the details of the crime from the subject so that if the subject confesses the disclosure of that information can be used to confirm the authenticity of the statement
Exercise special cautions when questioning juveniles or individuals with mental or psychological impairments
Always treat the subject with dignity and respect
The confession is not the end of the investigation - investigate the confession details in an effort to establish the authenticity of the subject's statement
We have published in our books and in our training manuals that the use of deception (as described in the Barry Laughman
case referenced above) "should be avoided when interrogating a youthful
suspect with low social maturity or a suspect with diminished mental
capacity. These suspects may not have the fortitude or confidence to
challenge such evidence and, depending on the nature of the crime, may
become confused as to their own possible involvement if the police tell
them evidence clearly indicates they committed the crime."
In fact, in the case People v. Elias (2015) the Appeals court pointed out several prescribed Reid procedures that were not followed by the investigator, resulting in a confession that was found to be involuntary " these procedures that were not followed included:
A non-accusatory interview was not conducted before initiating an interrogation
The investigator misrepresented the case evidence when questioning a 13 year old
There was no corroboration of the incriminating statement
There was contamination - disclosing details of the crime
The Reid core principles should be adopted by every investigator to ensure that proper procedures are being followed and to minimize the possibility of a false confession.
For additional information see Clarifying Misrepresentations About Law Enforcement Interrogation Techniques and, False Confessions - The Issues to be Considered, and, What Should be Asked to Determine the Voluntariness and Validity of a Subject's Confession?