Posts Tagged ‘interrogations’


Can Our Criminal Justice System Accurately Detect Lies?

Samantha Adams — February 09, 2015 @ 4:10 PM — Comments (1)

The ability to accurately assess the veracity of statements is an important component of the criminal justice system. We depend on police officers to determine if a suspect is lying or telling the truth; we depend on juries to determine if the defendant’s case or the prosecutions’ case is more believable; we depend on parole boards to determine if a prisoner is ready to be returned to society. In other words, we place a great amount of trust in people’s ability to differentiate between a truthful statement and a lie. The question is, do we place too much trust in this ability? Are humans able to function as accurate lie detectors, or are our attempts to determine the truth just a shot in the dark?

Psychological research suggests that some people are certainly better than others at detecting whether someone is lying or telling the truth; we call these people “wizards”. Research has also shown, however, that employees of the criminal justice system, from judges to police to FBI agents, are no better than the average person at detecting lies, and that the commonly used Reid interrogation method is detrimental for lie detecting abilities.

Rachel Adelson has published an informative article on indicators of lying and on training of law-enforcement officers to be better at detecting liars, and Richard Gray has published a similar article, pointing out many common misconceptions about our ability to detect lies. These articles show a glimmer of hope that lie detecting abilities can be improved and honed. However, psychologist Maureen O’Sullivan advises that efforts be reserved for refining the talents of “wizards” and other individuals who already show some innate talent at determining truthfulness, and cautions that even those who are naturally good at lie detecting still need to put in a considerable amount of work to improve their skills to a useful level.

Another important research finding is that police officers and other authority figures tend to have great confidence in their ability to detect lies even if their lie detecting abilities are no better than the average person’s. Further, jurors place a great amount of trust in the decisions of police officers, believing law enforcement to be more accurate in lie detecting than the average person. So while police can be wrong just as often as you or I would be, police officers themselves and jurors that listen to the police officers’ findings are much more convinced that the police’s conclusion is the right one.

And while the status of human’s lie detecting abilities is still up for debate, it’s now commonly accepted that the polygraph, a machine invented by Leonarde Keeler in the 1930s designed to detect lies, is not up to par. Polygraph tests are no longer admissible as evidence in federal court, and most states have followed suit. Although many people are still under the impression that the polygraph is always able to tell if someone is being deceitful, at best, the polygraph functions as a measure of psychological intimidation designed to push suspects towards confessing.

Weaknesses in lie detecting can largely contribute to wrongful convictions. Police mistakenly determine that an innocent suspect is lying about their innocence, and are confident in their determination. They may administer a lie detector test that further bulks up their confidence and may even produce a confession. Prosecutors, juries, judges, and sometimes even defense attorneys often end up being convinced by the police, rather than assessing the evidence and facts for themselves and “checking the police’s work”, and an innocent suspect ends up convicted and sentenced. Our justice system is based on the assumption that we can accurately determine the truth, but does not have enough safeguards in place to ensure that the truth is always actively sought. This is just another example of how wrongful convictions are not a problem that is easily solved, and require changes at all levels of the criminal justice system.

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Kentucky Women Close to Exoneration

Marianne Salcedo — August 14, 2014 @ 10:07 AM — Comments (0)

In 1998, Kyle “Deanie” Breeden was found bound with electrical cord and shot dead in the Kentucky River. For eight years, the case remained a murder mystery until Kentucky State Detective Todd Harwood announced he had solved it in only three weeks. The accused was a slight, 97-pound, one-legged women who had dated the 190-pound Breeden on-and-off for several months. Susan Jean King maintained her innocence, but was persuaded by Det. Harwood and her public defender to plead to second-degree manslaughter pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford. In other words, King did not admit guilt, but acknowledged there was enough evidence for a jury to find her guilty. She served eight years of a ten-year sentence. She later described herself as being “railroaded” and “set up by a corrupt cop.”

On July 20, 2014, after Richard Jarrell, Jr., who was being questioned by police about an unrelated crime, confessed in great detail to robbing and killing Breeden and throwing him off the Gratz Bridge and into the Kentucky River — and after Louisville Police Department Det. Barron Morgan, who took the Jarrell’s confession, was ordered off the case and summarily demoted to patrolman on the graveyard shift — and after a circuit court judge denied King’s motion for a new trial because she had pleaded guilty — and, finally, after the Kentucky Innocence Project (KIP) got involved, Susan Jean King was granted the hearing that is expected to exonerate her of Breeden’s murder in mid-August 2014.

The millstones of Justice turn slowly, as the saying goes, but this is in order to “grind exceedingly fine.” In other words, no detail should be overlooked to discover the Truth. When Det. Harwood solved the long-cold case, he should have wondered if his pat conclusion was too good to be true. Or as KIP attorneys wondered, if a one-legged, 97-pound woman could realistically heave a 190-pound body off a bridge. Or if Det. Morgan, who took the real killers confession and shared the details with KIP, should have been ordered off the case and demoted. Morgan sued the City of Louisville in 2012 and was awarded $450,000 in taxpayer money when the city settled the suit he filed after being demoted and humiliated. The Kentucky Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Florida, and all the members of the Innocence Network nationwide work tirelessly to ensure that Justice and its millstones grind solely in the interest of Truth.

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Round Up: Changing the Way We Find Justice

Julian Soto — May 23, 2014 @ 4:10 PM — Comments (0)

When dealing with the criminal justice system one is often confronted with policies and techniques that would seem to hinder justice as opposed to support it. Thankfully, there have been several recent developments that point to beginning of a change in these troublesome areas or, at the very least, a recognition that there may be a problem.

  • (Washington) In Policy Change, Justice Dept. to Require Recording of Interrogations On May 22nd the U.S. Justice Department took a major step towards the insurance of proper interrogation policy. The Justice Department stated on Thursday “that the F.B.I. and other federal law enforcement agencies would be required to videotape interviews with suspects in most instances, bringing the federal government in line with the practices in many state and local jurisdictions”. With the unsettling number of persons who have been exonerated after previously confessing under the pressure of improper integration techniques, this announcement comes with a great sigh of relief from those who work in the innocence movement.
  • To Catch an Arsonist: Will We Ever Have a Reliable Way to Identify Fire Starters? A recent article in the Pacific Standard (a well-respected science and society magazine) takes an in-depth look into the murky science of arson investigation. Increasingly we are seeing people who have spent decades in prison being exonerated due to the debunking of fire investigation techniques previously believed to be secure science.  Such discredited techniques include “Crazed glass” which was the term for a web of lines formed by fire on windows that used to be cited as arson evidence; it is now understood to be an effect of the quick-changing temperature when a hot window is hit by cold water from a fire hose. Discolored “pour patterns” on the floors and walls of a fire scene—supposedly formed by liquid accelerants—is another example. The debunking of these techniques and the attention which they have drawn has led to a greater scrutiny of Forensic Science, which will hopefully lead to improvements in a field that is often called upon to decide the guilt or innocence of thousands of men and women.
  •  (New York) DNA Analysis Exposes Flaws in an Inexact Forensic Science We live in a world where pop-culture and TV increasingly props up forensic science as the savior of justice. However, more and more scientific research reports are being released which conclude that there are serious flaws in many forensic science techniques. Recently there has been a rapid change in the attitude of the scientific community towards to practice of forensic science (with the exception of nuclear DNA analysis). In this recent NY Times article we are given a complete overview of the issues facing the world of Forensic Science, with a focus on the increasingly criticized practice of FBI hair analysis.

 

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Free, But with a Cloud

Anne — April 01, 2013 @ 10:08 AM — Comments (0)

With a college degree in hand and a healthy outlook on the future, Nicole Harris envisioned in December 2004 that she was on the brink of something big. As the single mother of two young sons, her college graduation was fostered by a network of family members and supporters whose pride in her accomplishments seemed endless. With a degree in psychology she hoped to land a job in her chosen field, and a subsequent move back to her hometown of Chicago would allow her to rejoin her family as well as explore opportunities for employment in her discipline. A few months after graduating, however, her plans for the future went terribly awry. The attainment of a college degree suddenly became a secondary treasure as she found herself charged in the strangulation death of her youngest son, Jaquari, age 4.

Harris steadily maintained her innocence regarding any involvement in her son’s death, but her protestations fell on deaf ears. Her son’s death, insisted prosecutors, resulted from her frustrations due to her son’s constant crying. According to authorities, Harris wrapped a fitted bedsheet cord around her son’s neck and strangled him.

Convicted of the crime by a Cook County jury, Harris spent seven years (of a 30-year sentence) in prison before the 7th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated her conviction in October 2012. On February 25, 2013, she exited the Dwight Correctional Center a “free” woman.  “This isn’t just a legal victory,” said Alison Flaum, an attorney with Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Conviction, which joined forces with the law firm Jenner & Block to defend Harris.  “They saw this case for the miscarriage of justice that it was.” Harris has always maintained that her son died accidentally and that she had nothing to do with his death.

Harris’ case  is troublesome, however, on so many levels and in so many ways:

  • Even though she knew she was innocent, she confessed to the crime following a 27-hour interrogation which, she said, included threats and manipulation by police investigating the case.
  • Police initially confronted Harris in a hospital chapel, where she had gone following her collapse after being told that her son had not survived. In such an emotional state, it is no stretch of the imagination to presume that authorial figures often engage powers of persuasion and similar techniques in an effort to elicit false information from vulnerable suspects. 
  • Harris’ oldest son, Diante, then 5, told investigators that he was alone in the home with his brother when he witnessed Jaquari wrap the cord around his neck while he (Daquari) was playing. Authorities, however, dismissed the brother’s claim.
  • The trial judge barred Diante from testifying, deeming him incompetent, presumably, because Diante believed that “Santa Claus, Spider-Man and the tooth fairy” were real figures and not imaginary figures.
  • According to reports in the case, prosecutors noted that Diante told investigators that he was asleep when his brother died.
  • Various reports indicate that Nicole Harris was at a nearby laundromat when the incident occurred, having instructed both young boys to remain in the home during her absence.

In overturning Harris’ guilty verdict, the judges wrote that if Diante had been allowed to testify, his testimony “would have changed the entire tenor of the case [and supported her oldest son’s claims that his brother’s death was accidental].”

Although Harris has been released from the Dwight Correctional Center and can begin the journey to rebuild the life she left behind in 2005, her legal battles are far from over. The State has appealed the October 2012 ruling and has asked the U. S. Supreme Court to review the case. Additionally, Cook County prosecutors could still move to retry the case. On February 25, 2013, the date of Harris’ release, a representative from the State Attorney’s Office said that a decision to retry the defendant had not yet been made.

In the meantime, Nicole Harris has maintained a positive outlook, insisting that she knew that prison wasn’t her “final destination,” that “eventually we’ll have full victory, and it’ll be all over.”

Through all that she has endured, she is certainly due the future she envisioned when she earned her college degree and stepped forward into a life of promise.

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Questionable Membership

Anne — October 03, 2011 @ 11:19 AM — Comments (2)

While many of us are culturally unified by various issues and experiences encompassing race, class, and gender there are others who, once upon a time, belonged to organizations which none of us will ever aspire to join, submit a membership card, or inquire about annual dues. The alliances are headed by various state-approved entities where rules and regulations of the guild are determined and outcomes asserted according to a set of guidelines, mandates, and directives. Organizations oftentimes have prominent affiliates and are located in various districts, townships, and provinces across the land, and though most clubs are fraternal, women can also become members if it has been deemed that they, too, meet certain criteria.

Sometimes, however, memberships are deemed to have been instituted in error. Too late, says the various committee chairs: Your intake cannot be retracted. We will in fact move forward.

Five men, Larry Griffin, Leo Jones, Ellis Wayne Felker, Jesse Tafero, and Cameron Todd Willingham, were members of a club which no free person wants to join. Their shared experiences were their executions amid questionable “evidence” related to various crimes.

Two of the men, Jesse Tafero and Leo Jones, were from Florida. Tafero, executed in 1990, maintained his innocence in the 1976 murder of two law enforcement officers at a rest stop off of 1-95 in Broward County. His execution garnered nationwide attention because of its “botched” handling. His state-approved killing was particularly violently, due to the malfunction of the (now-defunct) electric chair. Writing in response to the May 4, 1990 execution, Justice Leander Shaw said that Tafero’s electrocution was a “violent scene with smoke and flames spurting from his [Tafero’s] head.” Only after three attempts did the State successfully meet its objective.

Jones, convicted in 1981 of killing a Jacksonville police officer, was executed in 1998 amid claims of innocence. His “confession,” he maintained, was coerced by the investigating officers who took his “statement.” Several witnesses later came forward in support of his claim of innocence, and court documents in the case supported his assertion.

Convicted in 1981 and executed in 1995 for the murder of Quinton Moss in Missouri, Larry Griffin garnered the support of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, and other advocacy groups came to his defense. Although he was executed in 1995, his case was re-opened ten years later. After years of legal wrangling, appeals, and protests by supporters of a new trial, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney, following an extensive case review in 2007, concluded that Griffin was guilty of the crime for which he had been sentenced, and that the State of Missouri had not in fact executed an innocent man. Questions remain, however, regarding his innocence.

Attorneys for Ellis Wayne Felker, executed in1991 at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center (GDCC) in Jackson, Georgia, were refused a new trial for Felker despite having received a plethora of previously unrevealed documents which could have led to a new trial or exoneration. Felker was granted a temporary reprieve (from May-November 1996) due, most likely, to the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. The State of Georgia certainly could not be marred with the ugliness of an execution during such a global presence. The GDCC was the site of the recent execution of Troy Anthony Davis.

In Texas, which has the renowned feature of being included among the nation’s top five states for executions (Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio are the others), Cameron Todd Willingham’s case comes back into the national spotlight, presumably because of  Governor Rick Perry’s quest for the Republican Party’s nomination for President of the United States. In the face of overwhelming evidence that points to Willingham’s innocence relating to the death of his three daughters in Corsicana, Texas, in 1991, Governor Perry has been met with questions regarding his refusal to allow a probe of the Cunningham case during the height of the litigation.

While it is seriously unfortunate that Griffin, Jones, Felker, Tafero, and Willingham have the dubious distinction of having belonged to fraternities that no one wants to join, what’s more regrettable is that factors that assisted in their membership are continuously being utilized in various courts across the nation, including (faulty) eyewitness testimonies, false confessions, flawed legal counsel, jailhouse snitches, and the withholding of pertinent evidence from defense attorneys.

Our jobs on the outside are to continue the dialogue and to work to eliminate factors which invariably lead to the exclusive memberships.

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September Update

Jackie — September 26, 2011 @ 12:21 PM — Comments (2)

In this monthly update, Seth Miller, IPF’s Executive Director, provides an update on the Florida Innocence Commission’s work on witness identification procedures and recording interrogations to prevent future wrongful convictions. Florida DNA exoneree William Michael Dillon releases his first full-length CD, Black Robes and Lawyers, on September 27th. Seth also announces IPF’s first celebration gala, Steppin’ Out with the Innocence Project of Florida. It is scheduled for April 26, 2012, at the Four Seasons Hotel, Miami. This gala event will honor some of the early pioneers of Florida’s innocence movement and commemorate the inspiring journeys of Florida’s 13 DNA exonerees.

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Exonerated From Death Row: A Public Forum on Tuesday Oct 19th

Jackie — October 18, 2010 @ 2:20 PM — Comments (0)

We are excited that Florida A&M University’s Essential Theatre will be performing the stage play The Exonerated on October 22 – 24. Told in their own words, The Exonerated exposes the real life experiences of six Americans who were sentenced to death row for crimes they did not commit. For additional information about the production, read more.

In an effort to heighten awareness of this important issue, the Essential Theatre and FAMU’s Pre-Professional Law Program have partnered to offer “Exonerated From Death Row:  A Public Forum.” The discussion will focus on the areas that typically lead to wrongful convictions:

  • Eyewitness mis-identification,
  • Improper forensic evidence,
  • False confessions or admissions, and
  • Use of informants standing to gain from their testimony.

The forum is scheduled for Tuesday, October 19, 2010 on the Florida A&M University campus.  The forum will begin at 11:00 am and end no later than 1:00 pm. It will take place in the Charles Winter Wood Theatre (located in Tucker Hall) at 515 Orr Drive.

Panel members include:

  • LeRoy Pernell, Dean, FAMU College of Law;
  • Seth E. Miller, Esq., Executive Director, Innocence Project of Florida;
  • Alan Crotzer, Florida DNA Exoneree;
  • David Keaton, Exoneree, Member of the Quincy 5; and
  • Kent Spriggs, Esq., Spriggs Law, PA.

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Triple DNA Exoneration in Mississippi

Seth — September 17, 2010 @ 3:08 PM — Comments (1)

Yesterday, a Mississippi Court overturned the convictions of Phillip Bivens and Bobby Ray Dixon, two men who falsely pled to a 1979 murder of a woman. DNA has done it again:

Helfrich set aside the guilty pleas entered by Bivens and Bobby Ray Dixon in the May 1979 rape and murder of Eva Gail Patterson following a DNA test. The test matched semen from the crime scene to a DNA profile of Andrew Harris, who currently is serving a life sentence for another Forrest County rape.

Bivens was freed yesterday from his life sentence based on this result.  Dixon was already out on medical release as he has an aggressive form of cancer.  If Dixon can’t beat his cancer (;et’s hope and pray that he does), at least he will have been vindicated in this life.  Bivens’ and Dixon’s co-defendant, Larry Ruffin, was not so lucky:

Larry Ruffin also was convicted in the Patterson case following a trial by jury, but he died in 2002 while serving his life sentence.

Ruffin was also proven innocent through this DNA testing.  The only evidence connecting these three to this murder were their own words.  Each confessed to the crime, even though they were innocent:

Maw said a study published in the Stanford Law Review by Brandon Garrett dissected the first 40 of the 63 DNA exonerations involving a false confession. Garrett found that 97 percent of those confessions contain “explicit details” of the crime. Maw said interrogators usually introduce these details without even knowing they did so.”When you actually look at the statements of Larry Ruffin, Phillip Bivens and Bobby Dixon, they are inconsistent in many respects,” Maw said in open court. “We now know that people falsely confess without being beaten, without being coerced, and it happens more often than we’d like to admit.”

She said interrogators leaking details to those who confess fits this case especially well, as the only thing the three confessions had in common were the facts the police knew about the actual crime.  “I think this case is a very good example of why we have to scrutinize the content of these confessions,” Maw said. “If there is one lesson … it is to record interrogations.”

Well said.  Mandatory recording of interrogations will be an issue that is taken up by the new Florida Innocence Commission.  Congratulations to Mr. Bivens and Mr. Dixon and to all the good folks at IPNO for their wonderful work.

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More About Snitch Testimony in Dillon

Seth — November 05, 2009 @ 10:50 AM — Comments (0)

As we chronicled here on Tuesday,  Roger Dale Chapman, who testified during William Dillon’s 1981 trial that Dillon made a jailhouse confession, attended Dillon’s compensation hearing on Monday to set the record straight.  The news reports don’t really do this riveting moment justice.  So I wanted to recount what occurred from my perspective at counsel’s table:

  • While Dillon was on the stand, he was asked about his time in the county jail.  He noted that while he in jail after arrest, he was in a large cell with upwards of 20 inmates and a story about the Dvorak murder came on the TV.  Many people asked him about it and Bill stated that he told them “I had nothing to do with that there.”
  • Dillon also stated that he did not know Roger Dale Chapman, and therefore didn’t know if he had ever spoken with him at the jail.  The first time he found out about Chapman was when Chapman was on the stand testifying to the jailhouse confession at trial.
  • Then Dillon was dismissed and counsel called Roger Dale Chapman to the astonishment of the hearing officers and just about everyone in the room.
  • Chapman stated that he was in the county jail after being falsely accused of rape.  A Sheriff’s Office Agent, Thom Fair, came to him in the jail and made him an agent of the State for the purposes of soliciting damaging admissions from Dillon.  Fair threatened Chapman with jail time if he didn’t comply.
  • Chapman then stated that he went into the “bullpen” where Dillon was being held with many other inmates and, when the story of the murder came on the TV with a picture of Dillon, he asked Dillon whether he did it and Dillon protested his innocence vehemently.
  • Several days later, Fair came back to the jail to meet Chapman.  At this point Fair already knew that medical testing came back which demonstrated that Chapman could not have committed rape.   Yet, when Chapman stated that Dillon didn’t give him anything and maintained his innocence, Fair held out his hand and stated “I have your life in the palm of my hand and if you don’t give me something on Dillon, I can make that rape charge come back.”
  • Fair also told Chapman that they had Dillon as their “fall guy.”
  • Chapman then stated that he didn’t have anything to say so Fair decided to record a statement by Chapman which would implicate Dillon, only when Fair asked the questions about the specifics of the crime, another investigator held up the answers so Chapman could parrot them back for the recording and the eventual transcribed statement.
  • Dillon’s counsel also entered into evidence secret handwritten notes from Dean Moxley, the Chief Assistant State Attorney, indicating that Chapman may have been made an agent of the State and that they already gave him a bond reduction and they should probably enter into a deal with him.
  • Chapman then testified at trial that Dillon confessed to him in jail with detail about the crime.  Chapman’s rape charge was dropped in exchange.
  • After this testimony, Chapman apologized to Dillon for contributing to his wrongful conviction.

Obviously, none of this was turned over to the defense before trial and at trial, the State insisted that there was no deal.

This is the most pernicious kind of misconduct.  Law enforcement had their mind made up and then just needed to fabricate the evidence to fit that preconceived notion.    We call this tunnel vision.

This misconduct seems to have been the norm in Brevard County in the 1980s and the John Preston+snitch formula worked for the State in Dedge and Dillon, and we’ll find out whether it worked in the case of Gary Bennett.

Either way, this is the beginning of the pulling back of the curtain of the muck that regularly served to cause wrongful convictions in Brevard.  I suspect it won’t be the last we hear.

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Anthony Caravella Round-Up

Seth — September 22, 2009 @ 11:00 AM — Comments (2)

We have been really busy in the last week and haven’t been able to keep up with all the news regarding the recently released Anthony Caravella.  Here are some links to South Florida Sun Sentinel articles by Paula McMahon that will get you up to speed if you aren’t already:

DNA test casts doubt on 1983 Miramar rape and murder case

DNA result just one of troubling aspects in convicted man’s case

Prosecutors: Miramar man convicted of 1983 rape and murder should be freed

Timeline of the Caravella rape-murder case

DNA evidence frees man after 26 years in Broward jail

Freed Broward man enjoys first day of liberty (w/ video)

Out of prison, Anthony Caravella gets offers of help — including for tattoo removal

South Florida opens arms for Caravella (Editorial)

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