I recently watched The Confession Tapes on Netflix and then shortly after watched The Innocent Man. The first is a series (2 seasons so far) which takes on a different case each time showing how false confessions were coerced by police investigators. The second is a mini-series based on the John Grisham book of the same name.
The same question comes up time and again, “Why would someone ever confess to something they didn’t do?” Surely, if you are innocent you can’t be “talked into” accusing yourself… right?
Let me start by saying that I fully support law enforcement and think that the majority of these officers would never knowingly try to force a false confession. I can see however, that 15-20 hours into an interrogation how a skilled person could convince someone to say damning things. I can see how fear, confusion, and fatigue can position someone into saying whatever they think will end their suffering.
The television cop show interrogations are not at all reality in most cases. Rather than the brilliant detective spending 5 minutes to catch a hood in a slip or convincing him/her to ease their burden and confess, these are often quick long and drawn out.
It is really no different than what was discovered by the military. Torture, whether it is physical or psychological generates lots of confessions – not necessarily truthful information.
So being someone who backs the boys in blue, how do I reconcile this? As I mentioned earlier, I think that most of them are excellent people. Just like most bankers, plumbers, nurses and even marketing consultants are good people. The issue is the combination of a belief that “he is guilty anyway, this just makes it easier” and the power of the officer’s position, leaves a huge opportunity for a miscarriage.
My view is trust law enforcement but also subject them to higher scrutiny than you would people in positions of less power. As President Ronald Reagan said quoting a Russian saying, “Trust by verify.”
And for your own protection, if you are ever asked to talk with an officer asking for your lawyer to be present may seem to imply you are guilty, but is worth the precaution.
by Chris Doelle