Our Students in Action
How Interrogations Lead to False Confessions
Roughly 81% of false confessors end up being convicted when they go to trial. Doctoral student Netta Shaked is working with Dr. Mark Costanzo of CMC to help diminish this injustice. Their research is centered around false confessions and interrogation techniques as well as jurors’ responses to false confessions and how accepting they are of certain interrogation techniques.
One of the questions this research seeks to answer is whether jurors are more willing to accept high pressure interrogation techniques when they believe that the suspect is guilty. To explore this question Netta and Dr. Costanzo are running experiments in which participants read case arguments from the prosecution and the defense, watch a video of an interrogation and confession, and are then asked to render a verdict. There are several manipulations in the experiment, one of which examines whether participants’ verdicts and perceptions of the interrogation differ as a result of whether the suspect’s guilt is confirmed or left ambiguous.”
Netta has also worked on a survey of about 400 people on their knowledge of interrogations and false confessions. It appears that the average person is not very aware of the truths behind false confessions. “Most people think that someone is more likely to confess to a minor crime, but usually false confessions occur in more serious crimes like murder and rape.” When asked why this might be, Netta points to the possibility that detectives are under more pressure to solve high profile crimes and thus use more determined and coercive (though, usually legal) techniques to get confessions. Furthermore, police officers, as well as the average person, tend to think that the police are superior lie detectors, even though research shows they are no better at this than the average person.
Netta sees the major implications of research on false confession as being able to identify what actually leads to false confessions, why jurors are not able to recognize false confessions, and being able to educate the courts about these facts. One possible means to reduce the rate of false confessions is to impose time limits on interrogations. “Previous research has shown that most true confessions emerge after two hours and that interrogations which lead to false confessions typically last over 6 hours, with an average of 16.3 hours.” She believes that imposing a time limit of 4 or 6 hours should help decrease the occurrence of false confessions. In addition to setting time limits on interrogations, Netta also says that videotaping interrogations could be a helpful policy change. “This could protect suspects from unfair interrogations as well as protect police officers and detectives from unfair accusations about their interrogation practices.” Other policy changes include requiring that vulnerable suspects (children, mentally handicapped) have an appropriate adult present during interrogation as well as allowing expert testimony about false confessions in court to inform the jury.