Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

False confessions may lead to more errors in evidence, study shows

Date:
November 16, 2011
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
A man with a low IQ confesses to a gruesome crime. Confession in hand, the police send his blood to a lab to confirm that his blood type matches the semen found at the scene. It does not. The forensic examiner testifies later that one blood type can change to another with disintegration. This is untrue. The newspaper reports the story, including the time the man says the murder took place. Two witnesses tell the police they saw the woman alive after that. The police send them home, saying they "must have seen a ghost." After 16 years in prison, the falsely convicted man is exonerated by DNA evidence. How could this happen? A new study examines how false confessions can corrupt evidence.

A man with a low IQ confesses to a gruesome crime. Confession in hand, the police send his blood to a lab to confirm that his blood type matches the semen found at the scene. It does not. The forensic examiner testifies later that one blood type can change to another with disintegration. This is untrue. The newspaper reports the story, including the time the man says the murder took place. Two witnesses tell the police they saw the woman alive after that. The police send them home, saying they "must have seen a ghost." After 16 years in prison, the falsely convicted man is exonerated by DNA evidence.

How could this happen? "False confessions can corrupt other evidence, both from laypeople and forensic experts," says John Jay College of Criminal Justice psychologist Saul Kassin, summarizing a new study conducted with Daniel Bogart of the University of California Irvine and Nova Southeastern University's Jacqueline Kerner. The findings, which will appear in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, have far-reaching implications for judges and juries, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Confessions, when true, are an important tool in convicting criminals. But false confessions frequently play a major role in convicting innocent people. Experiments show that juries and potential witnesses are influenced by confessions even if they know they were coerced. Also in the lab, experienced polygraph examiners, fingerprint experts, and other experts, when informed of a confession, see what they expect to see -- that is, evidence of guilt.

To back up these findings with real-life data, the psychologists thoroughly reviewed the trial records of 241 people exonerated by the Innocence Project since 1992. Of these, 59 -- or 25 percent -- involved false confessions, either by the defendant or an alleged accomplice. One-hundred eighty -- or 75 percent -- involved eyewitness mistakes. The analysis revealed that multiple errors turned up far more often in false confession cases than in eyewitness cases: 69 percent versus fewer than half. And two thirds of the time, the confession came first, followed by other errors, namely invalid forensic science and government informants.

Kassin believes the findings "greatly underestimate the problem" because of what never shows up in court: evidence of innocence. Told the suspect confessed, "alibi witnesses back out, thinking they're mistaken," police stop searching for the real culprit. "We show that confessions bring in other incriminating evidence that is false. What we don't see is a tendency to suppress exculpatory evidence."

The study throws doubt on a critical legal concept designed to safeguard the innocent: corroboration. Appeals courts uphold a conviction even if a false confession is discovered, as long as other evidence -- say, forensics or other witness testimony -- independently shows guilt. "What these findings suggest is that there may well be the appearance of corroboration," says Kassin, "but it is false evidence that was corrupted by the confession -- not independent at all."

Already, many states require that interrogations be taped, so that confessions are not coerced or taken when the suspect is in psychological distress. With this study, "Juries and judges have more reason to critically evaluate the conditions under which that other evidence was taken, too."

The article is entitled, "Confessions that Corrupt: Evidence from the DNA Exoneration Case Files."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "False confessions may lead to more errors in evidence, study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111116151333.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2011, November 16). False confessions may lead to more errors in evidence, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111116151333.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "False confessions may lead to more errors in evidence, study shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111116151333.htm (accessed July 23, 2014).

Share This




More Science & Society News

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

9/11 Commission Members Warn of Terror "fatigue" Among American Public

9/11 Commission Members Warn of Terror "fatigue" Among American Public

Reuters - US Online Video (July 22, 2014) Ten years after releasing its initial report, members of the 9/11 Commission warn of the "waning sense of urgency" in combating terrorists attacks. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
CDC Head Concerned About a Post-Antibiotic Era

CDC Head Concerned About a Post-Antibiotic Era

AP (July 22, 2014) Sounding alarms about the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, CDC Director Tom Frieden warned Tuesday if the global community does not confront the problem soon, the world will be living in a devastating post-antibiotic era. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law

Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law

AP (July 22, 2014) Two federal appeals courts issued conflicting rulings Tuesday on the legality of the federally-run healthcare exchange that operates in 36 states. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
What Self-Made Women Need to Know Financially Before Getting Hitched

What Self-Made Women Need to Know Financially Before Getting Hitched

TheStreet (July 21, 2014) Halle Berry was recently ordered to pay her ex-boyfriend Gabriel Aubry $16,000 a month in child support by a California judge for their daughter Nahla. As women make strides in the workforce, they are increasingly left holding the bag when relationships end regardless of marital status. 'What Monied Women Need to Know Before Getting Married or Cohabitating' discusses information such as debt incurred during the marriage is both spouse's responsibility at divorce, whether after ten years of marriage spouses are entitled to half of everything and why property acquired within the marriage is fair game without a pre-nup. Video provided by TheStreet
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins