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“Under the right conditions even you could falsely confess to a crime:” False confessions getting more attention in the mainstream press

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There have been a lot of articles appearing recently about false confessions – it seems that quite a few major news outlets have been trying to raise awareness of the frequency and causes of false confessions.

This guest post on Discover Magazine’s The Intersection blog, written by Krista Forrest, Ph.D., of the University of Nebraska, discusses false confessions in an engaging, straightforward way that brings to light why people may confess to crimes they have not actually committed.

Forrest uses as an example the 1988 case of Marty Tankleff who, at age 17, found his mother and father stabbed and bludgeoned in their Long Island home. His mother was dead and his father was alive but unconscious. Tankleff called the police, who, based on Tankleff’s perceived lack of emotion, immediately took him in for questioning. Tankleff eventually confessed to the brutal murders after police lied and told him that his father had awoken from his coma and named his son as the killer. In fact, Tankleff’s father had never regained consciousness, ultimately passing away several weeks later.

Without any physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and despite the fact that his confession did not match the crime scene, Marty Tankleff was convicted in 1990 and sentenced to 50 years to life. It wasn’t until July 22, 2008, when new evidence emerged proving Tankleff’s innocence, that the New York State Superior Court officially recognized that Tankleff didn’t commit the crime and dismissed all charges against him.

Forrest goes on to describe the tactics that interrogators are allowed to use in order to try to extract a confession from a suspect, and the reasons why some people may provide a false confession:

As in the case of Marty Tankleff police are allowed to lie about the presence of eyewitness, snitch, and scientific evidence. Those same officers can give you a polygraph and tell you the outcome is failure, even when you didn’t. Judges, prosecutors, and police officers don’t seem to be concerned about deceptive techniques, citing legal cases as supportive of the technique. Yet more expert witnesses are being allowed to educate juries on the subtle, deceptive and coercive nature of police interrogation.

According to research, lying about evidence increases a suspect’s likelihood of falsely confessing. This effect is even stronger for the innocent, who may confess with the expectation that once this evidence is tested, they will be freed. Unfortunately they don’t know that a confession is all the court needs.

We hope that articles and blog posts like this one will help to raise awareness of a phenomenon that most people would consider unthinkable but that, sadly, is far more likely to occur than the general public realizes.

The Intersection, Discover Magazine – Lie to Me, Lie to You: Educating the Public about Police Deception

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