The Problem of False Confessions in the Post – DNA World

By Steven A. Drizen / Richard A. Leo / North Carolina Law Review 82(3), 894-1009, on 1 January 2004

In recent years, numerous individuals who confessed to and were convicted of serious felony crimes have been released from prison— some after many years of incarceration—and declared factually innocent, often as a result of DNA tests that were not possible at the time of arrest, prosecution, and conviction. DNA testing has also exonerated numerous individuals who confessed to serious crimes before their cases went to trial. Numerous others have been released from prison and declared factually innocent in cases that did not involve DNA tests, but instead may have occurred because authorities discovered that the crime never occurred or that it was physically impossible for the (wrongly) convicted defendant to have committed the crime, or because the true perpetrator of the crime was identified, apprehended, and convicted. In this Article, we analyze 125 recent cases of proven interrogation-induced false confessions (i.e., cases in which indisputably innocent individuals confessed to crimes they did not commit) and how these cases were treated by officials in the criminal justice system.This Article has three goals. First, we provide and analyze basic demographic, legal, and case-specific descriptive data from these 125 cases. This is significant because this is the largest cohort of interrogation-induced false confession cases ever identified and studied in the research literature. Second, we analyze the role that (false) confession evidence played in these cases and how the defendants in these cases were treated by the criminal justice system. In particular, this Article focuses on how criminal justice officials and triers-of-fact respond to confession evidence, whether it biases their evaluations and overwhelms other evidence (particularly evidence of innocence), and how likely false confessions are to lead to the wrongful arrest, prosecution, conviction, and incarceration of the innocent. Analysis of the aforementioned questions leads to the conclusion that the problem of interrogationinduced false confession in the American criminal justice system is far more significant than previously supposed. Furthermore, the problem of interrogation-induced false confessions has profound implications for the study of miscarriages of justice as well as the proper administration of justice. Third, and finally, this Article suggests that several promising policy reforms, particularly mandatory electronic recording of police interrogations, will minimize the number of false confessions and thereby inject a much needed dose of justice into the American criminal justice system.

  • Document type Article
  • Countries list United States
  • Themes list Due Process , Networks,