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

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

Peter J. Neufeld

Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law - Innocence Project

Bradley R. Hall

Federal Defender Office, Detroit

Amy Vatner

Harvard College

Abstract

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

Leo, Richard A. and Drizin, Steven A. and Neufeld, Peter J. and Hall, Bradley R. and Vatner, Amy, Bringing Reliability Back in: False Confessions and Legal Safeguards in the Twenty-First Century. Wisconsin Law Review, 2006; Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2009-04. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1134948

Richard A. Leo (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States

Steven A. Drizin

Northwestern University - School of Law, Bluhm Legal Clinic ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-8576 (Phone)

Northwestern University - Center on Wrongful Convictions

375 East Chicago Avenue
Chicago, CA 60611
United States

Peter J. Neufeld

Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law - Innocence Project ( email )

100 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
United States

Bradley R. Hall

Federal Defender Office, Detroit ( email )

613 Abbott St.
5th Floor
Detroit, MI 48226
United States

Amy Vatner

Harvard College ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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