November 27, 2007

Canada: How false confessions occur

Yesterday's Toronto Star, in the latest in a series of excellent articles on criminal justice issues, features an analysis of false confessions. The article, "Pressure of interrogation imperils even the innocent" by Tim Moore, discusses how police bias toward guilt and resultant high-pressure interrogation techniques can coerce innocent people to confess:
The recent [Canadian] Supreme Court decision in R v Singh, in which the court upheld the conviction of a man who confessed after police continued to question him despite his repeated assertions of his right to remain silent, has attracted renewed attention to the protection that the right to silence is supposed to afford….

There is a substantial body of research on the psychology of confessions. We now know that depending on how they are interrogated, actual innocence may put innocent people at risk. Police cautions are imperfectly understood in the first place, especially by young people or adults with cognitive impairments.

Some innocent suspects waive their right to silence because they perceive innocence to be protective and believe that their blamelessness will soon be self-evident. Unrealistically, they anticipate they will be able to explain to investigators the error of their ways. Regrettably, the ensuing interrogation risks eliciting a false confession from an innocent person, possibly contributing to a false conviction.
The article continues here.