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The Three Errors: Pathways to False Confession and Wrongful Conviction

G. Daniel Lassiter & Christian Meissner, eds., Police Interrogations and False Confessions: Current Research, Practice, and Policy Recommendations (American Psychological Association, 2010)

Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2012-04

23 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2010 Last revised: 4 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

Date Written: 2010

Abstract

Research has demonstrated that false confessors whose cases are not dismissed before trial are often convicted despite their innocence. In order to prevent such wrongful convictions, criminal justice officials must better understand the role that false confessions play in creating and perpetuating miscarriages of justice. This chapter examines police-induced false confessions and analyzes three sequential errors that occur in the social production of every false confession: investigators first misclassify an innocent person as guilty; they next subject him to a guilt-presumptive, accusatory interrogation that invariably involves lies about evidence and often the repeated use of implicit and/or explicit promises and threats as well; and once they have elicited a false admission, they pressure the suspect to provide a post-admission narrative that they jointly shape, often supplying the innocent suspect with the (public and nonpublic) facts of the crime. We refer to these as the misclassification error, the coercion error, and the contamination error. Additionally, at least three other processes – "misleading specialized knowledge," "tunnel vision," and "confirmation bias" – usually pave the way to a wrongful conviction by convincing all of the criminal justice actors to ignore the possibility that the confession is false. We analyze these processes in this chapter and conclude with recommendations designed to reduce false confessions and prevent false confessions from leading to wrongful convictions.

Keywords: police-induced false confessions, wrongful convictions, police interrogations, law enforcement, misclassification error, coercion error, contamination error

Suggested Citation

Leo, Richard A. and Drizin, Steven A., The Three Errors: Pathways to False Confession and Wrongful Conviction (2010). G. Daniel Lassiter & Christian Meissner, eds., Police Interrogations and False Confessions: Current Research, Practice, and Policy Recommendations (American Psychological Association, 2010); Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2012-04. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1542901

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

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