False Confession

Be wary in the Interrogation Room: Don’t Talk to the Cops (It is what the Police Tell their Own Children.)

A public radio report sheds light on some practices of law enforcement and investigators and the dangers of the interrogation room for those accused of crimes:

Homicide detectives are often required to confront the people they question. But in the case of a teenage girl whose baby has been dead for 27 hours and who pleads and cries through much of the interview, Truong’s attorney, Ed Ryan, says this is psychological torture.

“Their interrogation was designed not to determine the truth, not to get at the facts,” says Ryan, who wasn’t present for the interrogation, when Truong didn’t yet have a lawyer. “Their intention was designed to force her to confess to doing it in the way they figure she did it. They are the ones that force-fed her the word ‘suffocation.’ ”

Pageau also fed her the word “smother,” saying the medical examiner had determined Khyle had been smothered to death. But, in fact, the medical examiner said no such thing. Pageau was lying to Truong.

According to conventional training manuals, the purpose of interrogation is to get the suspect to incriminate themselves or, better yet, make a full confession. Confessions are considered the queen of criminal evidence, so in that room, Pageau does what he can to get the evidence he’s looking for.

The detective knows, as he will later acknowledge in court, that the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy a few hours earlier has not yet discovered a cause of death. But in the box, he betrays no doubt.

“I know how he died, which is why we are here,” Pageau tells Truong.

In fact, at this point, Pageau does not know how Khyle died. William Powers, a former Massachusetts State Police detective who has interviewed thousands of suspects and trained countless detectives, watched the videotape. He says that in Massachusetts, courts and judges take a particularly dim view of false statements by detectives.

According to Powers, “While they have never said flat out, ‘You cannot lie,’ it’s a real negative factor with the courts.”

The Worcester detectives continually lie to Truong while at the same time accusing her of lying to them every time she says she didn’t kill her baby.

FACT #1: Police can lawfully lie to you.

The article also details some other techniques.

“Maximization” is a technique detectives use to convey to the suspect the hopelessness of their situation. It’s meant to give the impression that continued denials will fail and that confession is an easier way out. And that’s just what Pageau does when he tells Truong, “If you think this is going to be like that other baby you were watching so well, you’re sadly mistaken.”

Eventually, the detectives switch from “maximization” to “minimization.” Pageau’s partner, John Doherty, offers Truong sympathy and plays down her responsibility for what they accuse her of doing. After all, Doherty tells her, “you’re just a kid.”

Finally, these officers proceed to something which the law does not allow: promises:

That’s when the detectives turn to another method of extracting a confession: making promises and offering inducements. They say they can get Truong help if she confesses.

“All everyone’s waiting for today is for you to admit to what you did so that we can start the process of getting you some help,” Pageau says, “getting your brothers out of that house and getting them in a better home, where there’s a mom that gets up in the morning and takes care of them.”

A few minutes later, Truong asks, “What kind of help am I going to get?” That’s when the detectives know they’re getting close. Pageau tells her there are women on the other side of the door who help children “like you.” But there are no women on the other side of the door.

He tells her that if she confesses, she will get help and leniency in the juvenile court, saying, “Keep it in the juvenile court. Keep it in the juvenile system, where punishment is minimal, if any — let’s say there is any.”

Bill Powers, who trains detectives through Boston University, says that’s where the Worcester cops cross a big, bright line of the law.

“We can’t make promises. We can’t say we will do things that we can’t do,” Powers says. “To say she will be tried as a juvenile versus as an adult, that’s not our call. That’s the call of the [district attorney’s] office.”

But Truong buys their promises.

“Do I have to say it?” she whispers.

The Court has weakened this rule in Alabama.

Two Chicago Men Declared Innocent; Another DNA Exoneration with False (Coerced) Confession

In a dramatic exoneration,

In 1997, Nevest Coleman and Darryl Fulton were sentenced to life in prison for the 1994, abduction, rape and murder of a 20-year-old woman in Chicago. But 20 years later, after DNA evidence excluded Coleman and Fulton from crime scene evidence and identified a local man who’d been convicted of several rapes, it was revealed that both men were innocent. The same judge who’d sentenced the men to spend the rest of their lives in prison two decades ago told them last Friday, “You’re free to go.”

The arrest and actions of law enforcement which caused the ball rolling were despicable:

Coleman was taken to the police station where he was both physically assaulted and called a “lying assed n—er” by one of the police officers interrogating him. Ultimately, Coleman maintained his innocence but was coerced into signing a court-reported statement that implicated him as well as Fulton and one of their other friends. Fulton was then arrested and taken to the police station where he too was physically assaulted and threatened to be shot in the head by a police officer. Fulton, too, eventually signed a confession although he insisted that he was not involved in the crime.


TEDx: What Leads To Juvenile False Confessions?

As a follow up to the disappointing news of “confession” of Brandon Dassey being upheld by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, listen to this brief lecture on what leads to Juvenile False Confessions:

What we do know is that false confessions or admissions were present in approximately twenty five percent of wrongful convictions of people later exonerated by DNA evidence. Turns out they were innocent. These cases are crystal clear because we have the DNA so they didn’t do the crime and yet one quarter of them confessed to it anyway. And at this point, from countless research studies, we have a pretty good sense of why people falsely confess and why some people like Brendan Dassey are at greater risk for doing so. So we know that youth are especially vulnerable to providing false confessions. In one study of exonerations for example only eight percent of adults had falsely confessed but forty-two percent of juveniles had done so.

She describes an incredible experiment she describes:

We did a mock interrogation experiment in our lab here at FIU. With parent permission for all minors of course and all the appropriate ethical approvals we falsely accused teens and adults of cheating on a study task, an academic dishonesty offense that we told them was a serious as cheating in a class in reality. Participants had witnessed a peer cheat someone who was actually part of our research team and was allegedly on academic probation and we gave everyone a tough choice: you can lose your extra credit for participating in the study or accuse your peer who will probably be expelled because of his academic probation status. Of course in reality none of these consequences would have panned out and we fully debriefed all participants afterward but most teenagers (fifty-nine percent of them) sign the confession statement falsely taking responsibility for the cheating. Only three teams out of 74 or about four percent of them asked to talk to a parent when we accuse them of cheating despite the fact that for most of them their parent was literally sitting in the next room during the study.


Disappointing News in the Making-a-Murderer saga. (SPOILER ALERTS, but do yourself a favor and binge watch this Netflix docu-series)

In a heavily divided opinion, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the conviction and thereby approved the abusive interrogation tactics employed against this disabled teen.

A federal appeals court in Chicago narrowly overturned a ruling Friday that could have freed a Wisconsin inmate featured in the “Making a Murderer” series from prison, though one dissenting judge called the case “a profound miscarriage of justice.”

The full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed Brendan Dassey’s claims that investigators tricked him into confessing that he took part in raping and killing photographer Teresa Halbach in 2005. Dassey was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 after telling detectives he helped his uncle, Steven Avery, rape and kill Halbach.

The 4-to-3 opinion conceded a ruling wasn’t obvious or easy, but said it came down to whether findings by Wisconsin state courts that Dassey wasn’t coerced into confessing were reasonable.

I’ll be honest; I binge watched this series. If I was a law school professor, I would use the series as the basis for an entire class on criminal defense. I nearly threw my laptop across the room watching the episode wherein the statements are obtained. The police behavior was bad; his defense lawyer was atrocious. Without his “coerced” confessions obtained by investigators (and his lawyer!), there would be no evidence to implicate Brandon.

Here is the statement of his attorneys, Laura Nirider and Steven Drizin:

We are profoundly disappointed by the decision of four judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to reverse two prior decisions and deny relief to Brendan Dassey. Like many around the globe, we share the view of the three judges who wrote, in dissent, that today’s ruling represents a “profound miscarriage of justice.” We intend to continue pursuing relief for Brendan, including through a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.

Today’s ruling contravenes a fundamental and time-honored position of the United States Supreme Court: interrogation tactics that may not be coercive when applied to adults are coercive when applied to children and the mentally impaired. Indeed, when such tactics are applied to vulnerable populations, the risk of false confession grows intolerably. Unfortunately, this time-worn lesson was ignored today by four judges in the case of Brendan Dassey. We at the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth are committed to continuing to fight on behalf of Brendan and others like him to prevent future miscarriages of justice.

The Northeast Innocent Project tweeted:

Another travesty of justice: The 7th Circuit rules against Brendan Dassey. False confessions are a leading cause of wrongful conviction and courts who fail to act in cases like this are failing innocent men and women everywhere.

Dassey’s statement was completely contradicted by any forensics:


This matter highlights the danger of exposing juveniles to law enforcement. As I have posted, DO NOT TALK TO POLICE, its is especially true for your children. DO NOT LET YOUR CHILD OR TEEN TALK OR BE QUESTIONED BY POLICE.

In Alabama, Section of 12-15-202 of the Alabama Code enumerates the rights of children in this setting: (a) When a child is taken into custody, the person taking the child into custody shall inform the child of all of the following, in language understandable to the child: (1) The reason that the child is being taken into custody, (2) That the child has the right to communicate with his or her parent, legal guardian, or legal custodian whether or not that person is present. If necessary, reasonable means will be provided for the child to do so, (3) The child has the right to communicate with an attorney. If the child does not have an attorney, one will be appointed for him or her. If the child has an attorney who is not present, reasonable means shall be provided for the child to communicate with the attorney. Before the child is questioned about anything concerning the charge on which the child was taken into custody, the person asking the questions shall inform the child of the rights a second time.

The Alabama Supreme Court held in Ex parte Whisenant, 466 So.2d 1006 (Ala. 1985): “If any one or more of the 12-15-202 warnings are omitted, the
use in evidence of any statement given by the child is constitutionally proscribed.” These rights are sometimes referred to as “Super-Miranda rights.”

In 18 years of practice, I can count on one hand the number of parents who wisely did not let their child speak or be interviewed by law enforcement. However, this past month, one mother refused law enforcement an interview with her teen son; the charges were ultimately dismissed.

(IMPORTANT NOTE: THERE IS NO PARENT-CHILD PRIVILEGE. Anything a child tells a parent can and will be used against them. Therefore a parent could be compelled by court to testify about any statements made by their child to them. Therefore if you get the call, do not talk about the details of the case. Tell your child to remain silent and DEMAND A LAWYER.)




“In hindsight, it might have been poor science. But it was the science of the day.”

Scary, long-read about “poor” science of arson forensic science: Playing with Fire: How Junk Science Sent Claude Garrett to Prison for Life.

The convictions of Babick, Hugney, Lee and Rosario all relied, at least in part, on the same kinds of burn patterns identified by Special Agent Cooper as telltale signs of arson in 1993. The fire investigative community has since acknowledged such flaws in its old methodology and, although it was slow to do so, has revised its literature and practices. Yet within the criminal justice system, even as the same junk science reappears over and over again in wrongful convictions, there has been no systemic reinvestigation of old arson cases.

TV crime dramas have unfortunately caused too much credence be given generally to forensic experts:

Recent experiments have yielded troubling results. In one 2005 test, ATF researchers asked 53 professional fire investigators to pinpoint the origin of a series of post-flashover fires. Only three were able to do so accurately — most drew false conclusions based on burn patterns. In 2011, a test conducted by  the California-based Arson Research Project asked professional fire investigators to assess 12 post-flashover burn patterns and distinguish between those that involved a liquid accelerant and those that did not. In reality, there is no way to tell the difference based on visual evidence alone. Yet out of 33 investigators, only three responded that such a conclusion could not be determined based on this evidence.

I once had an expert, on the witness stand, state that she had never made a mistake nor had she called her colleagues conclusions into doubt. State forensic scientists, although an independent agency from “law enforcement,” fall into a pro-prosecution bias.

In a subsequent report, the Arson Research Project warned that between their subjective methodology and close identification with law enforcement, fire investigators are “uniquely positioned” to be susceptible to the affects of cognitive bias — in which one’s perception is colored by preexisting knowledge or assumptions.

Scariest thought.

“In hindsight,” Fulton said, this “might have been poor science. But it was the science of the day.”

What forensic “most sophisticated science of today” will be viewed as poor science in 20 to 30 years? How many convictions will be obtained and prison sentences imposed with such “poor science.”

False Confession: Corrupting the Investigation

As reported by the New York Times:

False criminal confessions set in motion other errors by police, informants and witnesses, suggests a review of 240 overturned convictions.

In experiments, confessions have been shown to shape the interpretation of other evidence by polygraph examiners, fingerprint experts and witnesses, but real-world proof of the phenomenon has been hard to come by. To remedy that, researchers looked at cases overturned with the help of the non-profit group the Innocence Project, on the basis of DNA evidence, from 1992 through July 2009.

Fifty-nine of the cases involved false confessions — mostly by the suspect, sometimes by a supposed accomplice. The confession cases were significantly more likely than the others to have also involved other mistakes, such as incorrect findings by forensic labs (63% vs. 48%), or an informant whose tale did not reflect the truth (19% vs. 11%).

The researchers verified that most confessions happened very early in investigations, making it plausible that they clouded what happened later. Errant eyewitnesses were actually the most common glitch in the cases studied, appearing in three-quarters. But cases that involved eyewitness errors (and not confessions) were less likely to have multiple errors than cases that involved confessions (and not witness errors); in other words, eyewitness errors weren’t as contaminating as false confessions.

IL Court Reverses Conviction of Man Jailed for 19 Years in Rape and Murder

According to the reports, a man convicted of Rape and Murder has had his convictions set aside for lack of evidence.

In an opinion that harshly criticizes the tactics of the police and prosecutors, an Illinois appellate court on Friday night reversed the conviction of Juan Rivera, who has spent 19 years in jail for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old baby sitter in a suburb of Chicago.

Mr. Rivera, who is 39 and serving a life sentence, has been convicted three times for killing the sitter, Holly Staker, based on the strength of a confession that was obtained after four days of questioning. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, which occurred in Waukegan, Ill., and DNA testing in 2005 excluded him as the source of sperm found in Holly’s body. . .

In its opinion, the appellate court on Friday said the confession was highly suspect and was not enough for a “rational trier of fact” to conclude that Mr. Rivera was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For instance, while prosecutors insisted that Mr. Rivera’s confession contained details only the killer would know, the court said that detectives had fed some details to him by asking leading questions and that some other facts had been made public in newspaper articles.