November 28, 2012

Jury Expert: Timely focus on false confessions

"Why on earth would anyone, anywhere, ever confess to a serious crime they did not commit? Especially something like murder? Seriously? Mock jurors find this hard to believe." In the latest issue of the Jury Expert, two trial consultants present the research on why people falsely confess and the cascade of errors that follow a false confession.

The release of the documentary The Central Park Five makes Douglas Keene and Rita Handrich's overview, "Only the Guilty Would Confess to Crimes": Understanding the Mystery of False Confessions, especially timely. The consultants provide a concise summary of current research findings and references, making it an excellent resource for criminal attorneys, investigators, judges, law enforcement officials, students of law and public policy and, of course, forensic professionals. It is followed by commentaries from widely renowned false confession expert Saul Kassin and three others, including your blogger.

My essay, "Disputed confessions: The many hats of the expert witness," may be of special interest to this blog's readers, as it details the role of the expert witness in cases involving disputed confessions. I discuss the distinctions between "pure" academic research and clinical assessment, and the role of the forensic expert in evaluating both psychological vulnerabilities that might contribute to an unreliable confession and the separate issue of a suspect's comprehension of the mandatory Miranda rights waiver.

In an accompanying feature in the November/December issue, jury consultant Diane Wiley of the National Jury Project provides a supplemental jury questionnaire covering the issues attorneys need to address in a false confessions case.

And there's even more on the confessions topic in the new issue, hot off the press today: Rita Handrich reviews the 2010 volume, Police Interrogations and False Confessions: Current Research, Practice, and Policy Recommendations, edited by well-known scholars Daniel Lassiter and Christian Meissner.

The main feature (with accompanying essays) is HERE; my essay is HERE, and the entire current issue and back issues of the always-excellent Jury Expert can be accessed HERE. For you tweeters, the Jury Expert's Twitter feed is HERE.

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