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The Three Errors: Pathways to False Confessions and Wrongful Convictions
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The Three Errors: Pathways to False Confessions and Wrongful Convictions

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    1. The Three Errors: Pathways to False Confessions and Wrongful Convictions Steven A. Drizin Clinical Professor of Law & Assistant Director, Bluhm Legal Clinic Northwestern University, Chicago (312)503-6608 Email:

    2. 1) Police must classify an innocent person as a guilty subject (TUNNEL VISION) 2) They must subject that person to an interrogation that results in a false confession; (TUNNEL VISION AND CONFIRMATION BIAS) 3) The prosecution must decide to file charges based on false conf; 4) prosecution must convince judge there is probable cause for charges to go forward; 5) Prosecutions case must survive pre-trial motions to quash or suppress; 6) A jury must unanimously agree to convict innocent b/y reas. Doubt To keep false confessor in jail, post-conviction and appellate courts must reject challenges to conviction The Process From False Confession to Wrongful Conviction

    3. 3 Pathways to False Confession 1st: The Misclassification Error Behavioral analysis 2nd: The Coercion Error Psychological interrogation methods Individual vulnerabilities 3rd: The Contamination Error Scripting, misleading specialized knowledge, and the problem of deception

    4. 4 The Misclassification Error: Behavior Symptom Analysis: Mistaking Anxious Behavior and Responses for Deception? Erroneous Decision that Innocent Person is Guilty Leads to interrogation Police are trained to believe they are Human Lie Detectors Theory: Deception = Anxiety Manifested involuntarily in physiological responses Properly trained detective can read the signs Three applications Verbal behavior (e.g., word choice) Non-verbal behavior (e.g., posture, eye contact, facial expressions, arm and leg movements) Paralinguistic behavior (e.g., response length, response delivery, continuity of response)

    5. 5 Nonverbal Behavior Symptoms Truthful Suspect Upright Open and relaxed Lean forward on occasion Frontally aligned with the interviewer Casual posture changes Deceptive suspect Retreating from investigator Slouching Frozen Non-frontal alignment Barriered posture Erratic and rapid posture changes Head and body slump

    6. 6 Typical Behavioral Attitudes During an Interview Truthful Suspect Composed Concerned/Realistic Cooperative Direct/Spontaneous Open/Helpful Sincere Confident Deceptive Suspect Overly anxious Unconcerned/Unrealistic Uncooperative/Defensive Guarded/Evasive/Hesitant Rationalizing/Unhelpful Insincere Defeated

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    8. 8 Misclassification Error High confidence in ability to detect deception fueled by Reid and Associates claims of 85% accuracy Virtually every study shows that people are poor lie detectors and highly prone to error (no better than chance) Professionals do not fare much better (45-60% of the time) There is no human behavior or physiological response that is unique to deception. In false confession cases, interrogators often make erroneous judgments based on a perceived lack of emotion on the part of the suspect (Michael Crowe, Gary Gauger), or because the suspect is overly emotional (Jeff Deskovic, Jerry Hobbs) Bigger problem is that the human lie detector mythology increases police confidence in the accuracy of their judgments. This leads to investigator bias and hostile interrogations.

    9. Misclassification Error : Jerry Hobbs CASE Jerry Hobbs Krystal Tobias Laura Hobbs

    10. Misclassification Error Facts of Hobbs case: Mothers Day 2005. Laura Hobbs (age 8) and Krystal Tobias (9) go for a bike ride near in a Forest Preserve in Zion, IL. They do not return home. Jerry Hobbs and his wife search throughout the night for the girls. The next morning, Hobbs spots their bikes and as he approaches, he sees the girls bloodied bodies. It is a very bloody crime scene. Both girls had been stabbed numerous times. It is apparent to Hobbs that they have been murdered. The police are immediately notifed. They ask if Hobbs will come down to the station for questioning and he agrees, despite the fact that he is grief-stricken and has not slept. After 21 hours, Hobbs confessed.

    11. 11 Misclassification Error : Why Did Police Suspect Hobbs? Hobbs was the father of one of the victims. While it is true that police almost always consider family members "persons of interest," this is not evidence of guilt. There are plenty of cases involving strangers who abduct, sexually assault, and murder children. Hobbs discovered the victims' bodies. This is not evidence of guilt. Hobbs had been searching for the girls throughout the evening. Hobbs stated that he saw the girls's bodies from 20 feet away, that they were red, and pink, and blue, that they were very bloody, that he could tell they were not breathing, and that they did not look human. Police expected Hobbs to rush over to the girls, to check if they were still breathing. That's the way they believed a grieving father should have acted. But people grieve in different ways. They react differently when they are traumatized or in shock. His failure to act as the police expected is not evidence of anything.

    12. Misclassification Error : Why Did Police Suspect Hobbs? Hobbs had a criminal background which included some violence (he had threatened a mobile park owner in Texas with a chain saw) and had some physical altercations with his wife prior to his incarceration and he told the police this during the interrogation.Again, while a prior history of violence is noteworthy, Hobbs had nothing in his background to suggest he would stab his own daughter to death and murder her friend. Hobbs' wife told the police that he never laid a hand on the kids -- his anger was only directed at her, usually after he had been drinking. At one point Hobbs stated "I did not kill them girls." Police are trained to believe that the fact that a suspect refuses to name the victims is suspicious. But this is nothing more than mythology. Police viewed Hobbs's moaning and crying as inauthentic. Again, even the best trained psychologists cannot discern the difference between real tears and crocodile tears. His emotions did not "carryover" to other lines of questioning. Maybe these lines of questioning were not as emotional.

    13. Misclassification Error : Why Did Police Suspect Hobbs? The rest of the reasons for suspecting Hobbs were straight out of the Reid Technique and so-called Behavioral Analysis. Hobbs was guilty because he "covered his face with his hands He "turned away from detectives when they asked him about the girls" He slid to the end of his chair, placing himself as far away as possible from the officers at one point He would "drop his hands" when the detectives switched topics from the girls to another subject. Based on this, and little evidence, Judge Fred Foreman found that Hobbs had not been seized pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, and then held that even if he had been seized, there was probable cause to arrest him because it was reasonable for police to infer that Hobbs had committed the crime based on his behaviors and the police interpretation of them. In a sense he gave his blessing to largely discredited notions -- that the police are able to intuit a suspect's guilt based upon "behavior analysis" and that they are reliable human lie detectors. Misclassification error leads to wrongful arrest and erroneous decision on pre-trial motions.

    14. Misclassification Error : Other Sources of Misclassification Errors POLICE EXPERIENCE CAN SOMETIMES LEAD TO MISCLASSIFICATION ERRORS The Perpetrator Must Have Known the Victim When A Child is Killed Within the Home, Someone in the Family Must Have Killed the Child When a husband or wife is killed it is usually the spouse. If there are no signs of forced entry, the killing must have been an inside job Serial Killers Are White All Shootings in Black and Latino Neighborhoods Are Gang-Related The Last Person Seen With the Victim Must Have Killed the Victim If Someone Lies to the Police About One Thing, they Must be Lying About The Crime In Question In some cases, the odds may seem to favor one of these police theories or another but playing the odds can be dangerous; it can result in wrongful convictions, etc.

    15. 15 Interrogation: The Coercion Error Based on presumption of guilt which is often based on behavioral analysis not evidence Accusatorial, suggestive Interrogator dominates interaction Interrogators uses deceptive, manipulative & sometimes coercive methods (psych. Coercion means 1) techniques that overbear a suspects will (third degree, sleep, food, bathroom deprivation, promises of leniency/threats of harm; 2) cumulative effect is to make suspect feel he has no choice but to confess Purpose = To get incriminating statements, not necessarily the truth

    17. Psychology of Police Interogations: The Pre-Admission Phase Rapport Building Phase Non-confrontational interview (20-45 minutes) Miranda warning is issued Miranda warning does not provide much more than a speed bump Many people do not understand the concept of the Miranda warning Waiver rates for adults is 80-85%, Juvenile suspects is 95-100% Police officers are taught to read visual cues of suspects as evidence that they are lying

    18. Pre-Admission Phase Use of Bait Questions Is there any reason why witnesses would be telling us you were at the crime scene? Behavior Provoking Response Questions: What do you think should happen to the person who committed this crime? Confrontation Mode: Stage 1 Persuade Suspect he is caught and Powerless to Change Situation Shift from rapport-building to confrontation mode occurs quickly, all-of-a-sudden Were not here to talk about whether you committed the crime but why you did it. MESSAGE CONVEYED: We think youre guilty, we have evidence that youre guilty, and confession would give you some benefit later.

    19. Maximization and Minimization Techniques to motivate the suspect into confessing by conveying the interrogators absolute certainty of the suspects guilt Maximization (overstating strength of case against suspect, interrupting denials, accusing suspect of lying, false evidence ploys) We have talked to numerous witnesses who place you at the crime Your co-defendant is laying this on you

    20. True and False Evidence Ploys We found your hair, blood, semen, in the room. Weve sent materials to the lab that quite frankly will screw you. Redlich and Goodman study suggests f/e ploys may trigger false confessions

    21. Maximization and Minimization Minimization - psychological themes that allow the suspect to save face Moral excuse: You stole the money to feed your children Legal excuse: You shot the victim in self defense The sex you had was consensual The crime was impulsive rather than pre-meditated

    22. Spectrum of Coercive Motivators: Stage 2 Persuade Suspect that Benefits of Compliance Outweigh Costs of continued Resistance/ Denial Low end appeals to conscience, decency, religion, morality High end promises of leniency / threats of harm Middle-end motivators: Systemic inducements Put yourself in the shoes of the prosecutor or judge. Who would you rather have in front of you, someone who cooperates or someone who doesnt?

    23. Attacking Suspects Confidence in His/Her Memory Suspects will begin to doubt their own memory I must have done these awful things, but why cant I remember it? Detectives suggest that the suspect may have blacked out or been in a dream state and that these states happen all the time Essential step in coerced internalized false confessions

    24. Causes of False Confession: Police Interrogation: The Coercion Error Psychologically coercive police methods interact with Individual Vulnerabilities Vulnerabilities include youth, low intelligence, mental illness, suggestibility, compliance, etc. Suspect made to feel hopeless & perceives confessing as only way to improve situation (e.g., receive help, avoid prosecution, minimize punishment, etc) To stop interrogation, escape custody, go home (coerced compliant) Failure to understand implications of confession Interrogator persuades suspect that he committed the crime, despite no memory of it. (coerced internalized)

    25. The Contamination Error One police officers obtain an admission from a suspect, their job is not yet finished. In order to persuade a jury to convict a defendant, they need to elicit details of the crime from the defendant. The standard test for law enforcement of a reliable confession is: Was the Suspect Able to Provide Information About the Crime That Only Could Have Been Known by The True Perpetrator and Can that Information be Independently Verified and/or Corroborated by Police Investigation? Contamination Occurs When Police Officers Either Accidentally or Deliberately Feed or Suggest These Details to a Suspect Who Then Adopts Them in His or Her Statement. Without a Videotape of the Process, it is impossible to Detect Contamination Sources of Contamination include leading questions, showing crime scene photos, taking suspect to crime scene, suspects own innocent knowledge, facts released to media, etc.

    26. 26 Characteristics of Unreliable Confession Evidence: Post-Admission Narrative Assuming no contamination by interrogator(s): Confessors post-admission narrative (PAN) does not fit with the crime scene facts; Instead, PAN is replete with errors, guesses and impossibilities (I.e., factually inaccurate) This lack of fit demonstrates confessors lack of independent knowledge about: Unique crime facts Non-public information about crime Both dramatic and mundane details PAN does not lead police to new, derivative, or missing evidence

    27. Interrogators pressure suspect into accepting a particular account of the crime and Provide Specialized Knowledge to Suspects with Fact-Feeding Motives: Minimization or theme development is often a way of scripting motive To ensure confession will be admitted at trial, interrogators are trained to: Get suspect to attribute the confession to an act of conscience Get suspect to describe feelings of catharsis Get suspect to express remorse/apology Get suspect to state he was treated well, not threatened or promised anything, allowed bathroom breaks, given food, and that statement was made voluntarily; Error insertion trick insert errors, cross them out, get suspect to initial them, and to sign each page (this makes it appear that suspect read and edited the statement). Contamination Produces Wrongful Convictions: Constructing PAN

    28. Whose statement is it? US Supreme Court has questioned police tactics that are designed to get a suspect to agree to the police officers pre-conceived theory of the case (Miranda) Involuntary statements are those which are the products of tactics designed to force the suspect to provide specific answers sought by the interrogators even if the suspect does not believe them to be true. Interrogators tactics are designed to get specific answers to questions to get the suspect to agree to the composition of a statement that was not even cast in his own words. (Culombe v. Conn.)(1961) GOOD NEWS: Eliminating Contamination is Something That Police Officers and Defenders Can Agree On Contamination Produces Wrongful Convictions