Bringing Reliability Back in: False Confessions and Legal Safeguards in the Twenty-First Century
63 Pages Posted: 21 May 2008 Last revised: 11 Sep 2013
Confessions are among the most powerful forms of evidence introduced in a court of law, even when they are contradicted by other case evidence and contain significant errors. Police, prosecutors, judges, jurors, and the media all tend to view confessions as self-authenticating and see them as dispositive evidence of guilt. This article uses the Central Park Jogger case as a primary example of how defendants are vulnerable to erroneous convictions based almost entirely on their false confessions.
This article points out the failures of the legal tests governing admissibility of confessions, examining voluntariness jurisprudence and corroboration rules. The article also analyzes the social science research of the past twenty years and the nature and scope of the problem of false confessions in the post-DNA era. The authors argue that recording the entire custodial interrogation of suspects should be a prerequisite of any new legal test inquiring into the reliability of a confession. The article also urges policy makers to require judges to hold pretrial reliability hearings separate from pretrial voluntariness hearings and proposes a new standard for judges to apply when assessing whether a confession is reliable.
Keywords: Criminal procedure, false confessions, DNA testing, interrogations, law enforcement, electronic recording, voluntariness jurisprudence, corroboration rules, Central Park Jogger case
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation