“Desperate times call for desperate measures,” 25 percent of the time, to be precise, in light of the case in point.
While there may be several reasons as to why people give false confessions, Lisa Black and Steve Mills of The Chicago Tribune zero in on the element of desperation in examining the gamut:
Trauma, lack of sleep and highly manipulative interrogation techniques are a few factors that can cause the most level-headed people to falsely confess to a crime — even one as heinous as a child’s murder, according to experts. Researchers believe that false confessions lead to about 25 percent of wrongful convictions, a statistic underscored by the increasingly sophisticated use of DNA evidence.
Take, for example, the case of Kevin Fox. Having just lost his 3-year-old daughter to a brutal ordeal of sexual assault and murder, he found himself sitting in a “small, windowless room” with the police threatening that they would “arrange for inmates to rape him in jail.” According to further records, the detectives “screamed at him, showed him a picture of his daughter, bound and gagged with duct tape, and told him that his wife was planning to divorce him.” This went on for 14 hours. Fox gave up and went along with the police’s hypothetical insisting that his daughter had died in an accident, thinking that, clearly, they would see that the hypothetical and the actual evidence coming from the incident did not fit together. Quite the opposite of recognizing the mismatch, the police locked Fox away for 8 months before DNA evidence revealed that he could not have committed the crime.
The interrogation itself is stressful enough to get innocent people to confess,” said Saul Kassin, a psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “But add to that a layer of grief and shock and perhaps even some guilt — ‘I should have been there’ — and then that the parent is trying like hell to be cooperative because they want the murder of their child solved.
The sort of torturous investigation as that endured by Fox is matched in immorality by its deceptive technique. Dr. Robert Galatzer-Levy, a psychiatrist at the University of Chicago and the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, notes:
While law enforcement agencies have long relied on the “Reid Technique” method of interrogation to elicit confessions, some critics argue it’s based on faulty assumptions of deceptive behavior. Investigators are taught how to base their questions and method of interrogation on a suspect’s verbal and non-verbal cues and mood, sometimes using a “baiting” approach to elicit confessions.
This method becomes even more alarming when examined in light of its frightening potential:
Even those who believe such techniques are effective in obtaining true confessions say they can be misused by authorities.
There is a lot of coercion that can happen, short of the (former Chicago police Cmdr. Jon) Burge case where they are torturing someone to get confessions,” said Fred Hunter of Hinsdale, a licensed polygraph administrator. Burge, 62, was convicted last month of obstruction of justice and perjury for lying about torturing suspects in a civil case.
The lashes of this injustice are not limited to parents, such as Fox, but spread further to hit another group of people:
Those most vulnerable to overzealous police work often are “throwaway people,” said Hunter, referring to suspects who lack education, advocates or resources to represent themselves.
We know that for certain kinds of people, particularly those with mental illness and mental deficiencies, but other people as well, the psychological intensity of an interrogation can prove absolutely as torturous as physical pain,” said Lawrence Marshall, a Stanford University law professor who co-founded Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions.
What can be said about a system that victimizes some of the most vulnerable members of our society?…And, perhaps, one of the sadder aspects of it all is the system’s reliance on the shortcut that is a confession…at the expense of solid evidence.
I think what we are seeing right now is there has become an overdependence on confessions,” said Marshall, who is appealing the case of Juan Rivera of Waukegan, who in May 2009 was convicted for the third time of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl despite DNA evidence that excluded him. Lake County prosecutors suggested the girl was sexually active to undercut the DNA.
When translated from Latin, the origin of the opening proverb goes, “Desperate diseases must have desperate remedies.” Coerced false confessions that lead to wrongful convictions, are they not a cancer of our law enforcement and our justice system? What do you say would be the proper remedy?