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Preview Why Would Anyone Confess To A Crime They Didn't Commit?

October 5, 2010

VIEW: A former NYPD detective re-enacts one of the techniques used in a police interrogation.

The clip is from our upcoming November 9th report, The Confessions, produced by Ofra Bikel. Over the past two decades, Bikel's investigations into the criminal justice system have received broadcast journalism's most prestigious honors.

You can see the trailer and press release for The Confessions here.

A recent study by the University of Virginia School of Law revealed that [PDF] of the 252 people exonerated since 1976 based on DNA evidence, about 40 of them had confessed to the crime!



As retired detective; my question - why would a detective prefer a 'confession' that is inaccurate or false than finding the actual, factual offender? Any technique can be used for many purposes; but the intention of the investigator must be the facts - not a personal opinion, bias or perspective. Investigating criminal acts is about determining the facts.

K. Casey / October 6, 2010 1:22 PM

I would think that, really, it comes down to the fact that investigators are still people, and many people tend to make up their minds about something, then backwards engineer the reasoning for it after the fact. Regardless of how you or people you may have known at one time in your field behaved, the truth is that once most people make up their mind about something, it's very hard to convince them otherwise. I don't think investigators PREFER a false confession, they just already the think the person in question has done committed the crime. Also, interrogation techniques aren't made for getting the truth, they're made for getting someone to tell you what you want to hear, which is an important distinction.

A. Vick / October 6, 2010 5:39 PM

If the truth is desired, then totally objective interrogation techniques should be employed. Not saying that this would be easy -- it wouldn't be. Pie in the sky, I know.

Mark Farley / October 6, 2010 6:19 PM

Well put A. Vick. Couldn't have said it better.

Jimmy Y. / October 6, 2010 8:01 PM

Prejudice. A belief that it's there job to make determinations of guilt because the rest of the system is corrupt. A belief that no one would provide a false confession if they weren't actually guilty. The fact that at least a small percentage of the time, overly forceful interrogations produce useful and sometimes critical information even if they do sometimes result in false confessions. Commendation for clearing a crime. Promotion. Maybe they're simply a bad person.

There are many reasons. The fact is that it happens.

Fred / October 6, 2010 9:24 PM

It is my conjecture that in an interrogation situation, whether you are guilty or not, KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT! "...you have the RIGHT to remain silent..." and, you are innocent until proven otherwise in a court of Law. Talk ONLY to your attorney or the judge hearing your case (if it goes that far).
You can ask in a calm, audible voice,
1. To see an Attorney and have him/her present.
2. Are you charged with anything, and if yes, what, and if no, are you free to leave.
3. May you have food and water.
4. May you visit the toilet. If this is denied, do it where you are. In your pants, if necessary or on the floor.
5. If you are tortured, scream your head off. Someone may hear and remember.
6. If someone speaks to you, DO NOT ANSWER THEM, but rather, ask who they are. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES TALK WITH THE DA FOR ANY REASON.
7. Let NO ONE intimidate you.

Roy Robertson / October 7, 2010 1:30 PM

Since I lived in Japan for many years I have watched (satellite Tv and a newspaper) the developing scandal of the senior public prosecutors office in Japan where a senior prosecutor actually altered evidenceon a disk giving rise to an intially incorrect conviction overturned on appeal.
In both cases, although the Japanese system is more open to variability; they
1) US look for motive for ther crime and work from there. Confessions tend to sought in difficult cases to keep workload down and conviction rtes at levels politically acceptable.
2) Japan, the police gather evidence (and then the prosecutors create alternative scenarios to prove a case in court based on evidence) and the Prosecutors will choose a course as to whether a confession fits any of thier scenarios. Confessions abound as the "contrition" may and usually does get a reduced sentence.
The DNA evidence bears out the same errors in Japan.
Either way is fraught with danger and Robertsons advice is 100 % correct especially if in fact you are innocent, as in those circumstances a defence lawyer can drive coach and horses thru a prosecution case. You are not required to convict yourself. Except Japan promises you leniency if you do.
To make it simple while I was working in Japan I had a car accident which resulted in me rear ending a car in front. As we all know thats my fault. OK no problem. There were a whole bunch of causes a Taxi cutting accross from the third to first lane to pick up a fare, a Motor cycle close behind him in third lane so I could not move there and the guy I rear ended pulling out from an illegal parking in lane one to get past the taxi co timed with me being cut off by the taxi driver.
The police interview does not allow you to give your written version of the accident. they have measured up reviewed the skid marks etc and decide how it happened and whose fault, and present you as "they write" the evidence of what happened He kept insisting I was not looking forward and wanted to write that down. At which point I said OKI no more I say sign or do nothing more until my lawyer gets here. He arives the police write thier report My lawyer says finger print it and add you disagree with the not looking bit. And add the taxi driver and Motor bike bit, and pull out guys actions. They dont write it down but the lawyer records it and has it certified.
Thats Act 1 scene 1.
Act 2 scene 2. I am told to go to a meeting with Judge ( actually his clerk with interpreter provided free.)My lawyer is not allowed to attend. I have a 4X4 vehicle Nissan.
1st question: Do you have a Roo bar on your vehicle?
Answer: No it is exactly as manufactured by Nissan!
2nd question: You have questioned the police officers report?
Answer: I said, I did not question his report I was not allowed to, I did however request some additional facts to be included which were not but had to bring in a lawyer to have that information available to you as recorded.
The clerk with a wave of his hand, yes I listened to that. 3rd question Do you believe fundamentally this was not your fault? Answer of course it was my fault but if any body was "not looking" it was the taxi driver and the the gentleman who moved out of the lane one without looking for traffic from behind.
Response from clerk: question 4 You have no contrition?
Me: I do not know what I need to be contrite about this was an unfortunate accident and they happen, and yes most of the blame will be mine.
The fine was Y 250K and the insurance company expected Y50K they said my mistakes were
Question 1 response was " arrogant"
Question 2 response " undermined the integrtiy of the police"
Question 4 response " I showed no contrition even though I said it was mainly my fault. the insurance guy said japnese style you lack humility, those three resonses made you fine huge to teach you a lesson.
I said to him well if there is a next time they can lock me up for life for a minor accident like this. I will never finger print a police officers view of the accident and I will have my day in a real court not with Judges clerk, and a Jury too boot!!
= Never ever confess anything if you are truly innocent or not guilty fully as charged make them prove it.
Common sense.
Guest 5.

J.V.Hodgson / October 10, 2010 3:49 AM

Ah, the New York police. The only police force that has their retired cops picking up the payoff money. Don't believe me? Read the Knapp Commission report.
Think you should talk to the police? Listen to a cop talking to his law class

go to you tube and search "never talk to the cops"

John Roberts / October 10, 2010 9:45 AM

U.S.A is most corrupted country in the world. Justice system stinks. This country is hungry for money that is how judges,lawyers, police stations staying on their feet put many innocent people in jail as much you can. Where else could they milk money from civilians of course jail system. I have lost trust in U.S.A justice system long ago. Government has build 180 more jails and it is growing more. Is everybody criminal in this country??????
Of course they are. If you ask justice system yes we all are criminals. This is the only country puts handcuffs on children too. America has more jails than brains.
There is no justice in this country.
Shame on America their is no justice.

Hatice / October 10, 2010 11:24 AM

Detective's have a good idea going in if this person is guilty. I don't think they try and get someone to confess if they know there not guilty. Most cops are trying to protect citizens and want to get the correct person responiable for the crime.

Plants / October 10, 2010 12:14 PM

Locking dangerous individuals up, children or not, is necessary sometimes. But mentally breaking someone who's innocent just for the sake of getting a false confession out of them is LOW. I thought that those who go into professions like this (i.e. in the law/justice system) are supposed to have a sense of justice themselves? I'd like to see one of those interrogators being interrogated!

Manny / October 11, 2010 2:28 PM

In America, You get all the justice you can pay for.

Ted Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, Robert Downey Jr., Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Bill Clinton on and on on and on.

bigdog / October 13, 2010 8:46 AM

The justice of forcing a confession out of a person so as to keep everybody happy and move up the ladder is as major a crime against a person as any crime that the alleged criminal is being accused of. It puts a wedge between society and the police force and produces total distrust in the whole of the powers that be. It is criminal and destructive to the greatest degree imaginable as I see it. I have met a number of officers that have earned my respect as Ive interacted with them. By far and above, however,most of the police force as well as the court system are so far away from performing in a manner that I can respect that it makes me fear loath and hate the whole of it. When the system that can put judgement on a person and decide his or her fate is operating in a fashion more criminal and destructive than that which it is making judgment against, then things get ugly for all. In my personal experience with the system fairplay and true honest evaluation of events concerning my misdeeds and alledged misdeeds have been far removed from the events. Officers Lying railroading and brutalizing and courts that automatically assess him as valid and myself as criminal were the norm of the day. In the United States of America a person is guilty until he or she can prove they are Innocent and the judgments of the courts are so varied as to provide ample evidence that it can only be hoped and prayed for that the powers that be won't decide to focus in on you on any given day, as that day may produce victimization of ones life as well as life altering consequence just as in any other country in this world. In fact, it is the united states that has been the dominant victimizer and bullyer of the world as history records it. The united states always gets what it wants no matter what the consiquence to the world.

Bryan / October 14, 2010 12:22 PM

In viewing this one is struck not merely by the reduced quality of recent PBS programing but in the complete lack of accompanying scientific validity of productions.

Really folks, you would be closer to the ball park if you dropped the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator mumbo-jumbo and instead, like Nancy Reagan, took up astrology. The directional re-orientation would have you focus on the engine and not the caboose. As offensive and contrary to nature for some of you that might be, my appologies-sorry. I appologize.

Marc / October 14, 2010 11:51 PM

The problem with investigating a criminal case is that people bring their own prejudices without being aware of it. Even honest police officers who try to be objective may have prejudices that they are unaware of. Even something as simple as how good looking a person is can affect how we judge them. When presented with two suspects, one with a symmetrical face (good looking face) in contrast with another that isn't psychological studies show that a majority of people will consider the good looking person to be innocent.

In Western Australia we have recently had a case where Andrew Mallard spent 12 years in jail for murder he didn't commit. The police probably thought that they had their guy. He had been behaving erratically, he had a minor theft charge, he was probably going through a mental breakdown caused by his recent split with his girlfriend. The police were so convinced that he was guilty that they ignored evidence. He had an iron clad alibi. They extracted a confession.

This action left a killer on the loose who killed again 7 months after the first murder. A murder that may have been prevented by a more thorough investigation.

It seems to me that all investigations should be overlooked an independent third party. By someone sufficiently removed from the case that they do not get emotionally involved in the sense of urgency to close the case.

Every time that there is injustice, the criminal is still out there, and the community is at risk.

Mark Thompson / October 19, 2010 1:40 AM

One more person that convictions rather innocent or not make happy is th d.a. because he gets a higher conviction rate to show off come election time. A overly high plea-out conviction rate usualy means a d.a. that is pleaing innocents to let them get it over with with as little as possible to keep that conviction rate higher. Nobody is right 99% of the time.

Kandy / October 19, 2010 9:58 PM

Having an indepedent third party overlook these investigations that have confessions is spot on, but they would have to be carefully vetted. I mean look, even though Jefferson was a slave owner/pedophile, he thought that it was better if some guilty parties go free than one innocent be jailed. I think this shows that sometimes morality can be selective.

Nivla Senoj / October 20, 2010 2:50 AM

Detectives aren't deliberately trying to get a false confession. The aggressive interviewing technique that they use, as displayed in the preview video, as well as the tunnel vision that is often the thinking and attitudes behind many detectives is what causes the the person who is being interrogated to falsely confess.

Plus no, detectives don't have a good idea of whether a person is guilty or innocent. Often the behaviour of a suspect might be odd or strange but it's not evidence of guilt.

Penny Anny / October 23, 2010 1:55 AM

This is Just another example of how the Police
conduct themselves and it tells me more about the Police than perhaps should be reveled!

Jasper / October 24, 2010 4:13 PM

This story is very disturbing. Now I will always question a confession. Taped confessions should not be admissable unless the entire session is taped. If one minute is missing then throw the whole thing out. I know that this may let guilty people off on technicalities but cops like Ford force us to do this. It's so sad that these men's lives our ruined so one guy didn't have to admit he was wrong. And everyone bought it. I probably would have voted guilty if I was on the jury. The detective knew exactly what he was doing. I know one thing - I will never talk to a police officer. You can't trust anybody but yourself.

Melissa / November 9, 2010 11:07 PM

I live in Va. and know for a fact that "the system" of so-called justice, we have in this great Commonwealth, is so corrupt that you don't have a chance of getting a fair hearing, trial, etc. There may be a "few" decent, honest, lawyers and judges out there, but I have yet to meet them. In dealing with DSS, I was lied about, my grandbabies were taken away from my daughter, and I can't even see them, and I know in my heart and for a fact that I have done NOTHING WRONG!!!! $20,000 later, and no retirement left, the truth is still not told. How can they

Anita F. Martin / November 11, 2010 5:21 PM

The American justice system is just crazy. When a new mother test pos for pot they arrest the Baby? When a new mother fails a driving rule, they arrest the baby? The effort to hold our Children as punishment for some municipal misdeed is the real crime against our Children. It is a system of injustice when it comes to Children and their rights. The new rule is 55 shots for a baby, Crazy?

whiteyward / November 16, 2010 11:21 AM

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