Police Interrogation, False Confessions, and Alleged Child Abuse Cases

29 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2017 Last revised: 31 Mar 2017

See all articles by Richard A. Leo

Richard A. Leo

University of San Francisco - School of Law

Date Written: January 1, 2017


In this lecture, Professor Richard Leo discusses false confession cases, exploring the phenomenon of false confessions, the impact of confession evidence, and the causes of false confession. In the beginning of his presentation, Professor Leo highlights some typical characteristics of false confession cases by discussing the false confessions of Adrian Thomas and Nga Truong, both wrongly accused of killing their children. In both cases, law enforcement officers ignored substantial medical evidence that the children died from other causes and assumed from the start that Thomas and Truong were guilty of homicide. Professor Leo explores laboratory and field studies on the impact of confession evidence, which demonstrate that confessions are highly prejudicial. He also outlines the social psychology of police interrogation, noting that contemporary American interrogation methods are designed to persuade suspects that their situation is hopeless and that confession is in their self-interest. Next, Professor Leo details the risk factors for interrogation-induced false confessions, including officers’ presumption of guilt, lengthy interrogation and sleep deprivation, false evidence ploys, minimization and maximization, and explicit promises and threats. In conclusion, he argues that the United States needs to enact front-end reforms, such as electronic recording of interrogations and improved training for law enforcement personnel, that would help to minimize false confessions.

Keywords: False Confession, Wrongful Convictions, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Law Enforcement, Police Interrogation

Suggested Citation

Leo, Richard A., Police Interrogation, False Confessions, and Alleged Child Abuse Cases (January 1, 2017). University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, Forthcoming; Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper No. 2017-05. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2901032

Richard A. Leo (Contact Author)

University of San Francisco - School of Law ( email )

2130 Fulton Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
United States

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