The Problem of False Confessions in the Post-DNA World
Richard A. Leo
University of San Francisco - School of Law
Steven A. Drizin
Northwestern University - School of Law, Bluhm Legal Clinic; Northwestern University - Center on Wrongful Convictions
North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 82, 2004
In recent years, numerous individuals who confessed to and were convicted of serious felony crimes have been released from prison - some after many years of incarceration - and declared factually innocent. Often, these individuals are freed as a result of DNA tests that were not possible at the time of arrest, prosecution, and conviction. DNA testing has also exonerated numerous individuals who confessed to serious crimes before their cases went to trial. In this article, we analyze 125 recent cases of proven interrogation-induced false confessions (i.e., cases in which indisputably innocent individuals confessed to crimes they did not commit) and how these cases were treated by officials in the criminal justice system.
This article has three goals. First, we provide and analyze basic demographic, legal, and case-specific descriptive data from these 125 cases. This is significant because this is the largest cohort of interrogation-induced false confession cases ever identified and studied in the research literature.
Second, we analyze the role that (false) confession evidence played in these cases and how the defendants in these cases were treated by the criminal justice system. In particular, this article focuses on how criminal justice officials and triers-of-fact respond to confession evidence, whether it biases their evaluations and overwhelms other evidence (particularly evidence of innocence), and how likely false confessions are to lead to the wrongful arrest, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration of the innocent. Analysis of the aforementioned questions leads to the conclusion that the problem of interrogation-induced false confession in the American criminal justice system is far more significant than previously supposed. Furthermore, the problem of interrogation-induced false confessions has profound implications for the study of miscarriages of justice as well as the proper administration of justice.
Third, and finally, this article suggests that several promising policy reforms, particularly mandatory electronic recording of police interrogations, will minimize the number of false confessions and thereby inject a much needed dose of justice into the American criminal justice system.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 117
Keywords: Criminal procedure, false confessions, DNA testing, law enforcement, interrogations, taping, recording, wrongful arrest, wrongful conviction
Date posted: May 16, 2008