Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The danger of false confessions

Bill Moushey of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette has an excellent piece in last Thursday's paper about false confessions. It seems strange to the layman that someone would confess to something that he/she didn't do, but it happens:
Innocent people confess to crimes for many reasons, including the desire for notoriety. That was the apparent motive in the celebrated unraveling this week of John Mark Karr's false admission that he had killed JonBenet Ramsey.

But false confessions usually involve coercive interrogations in which police claim to have evidence of a suspect's guilt and then promise leniency for cooperation or severe punishment for non-cooperation.

In a study of 340 overturned convictions between 1989 and 2003, Dr. Samuel R. Gross of the University of Michigan Law School and his colleagues found that 51, or 15 percent, involved false confessions. Most of those confessions resulted from police coercion.

The case of Walter Ogrod of Philadelphia is one in which a confession, potentially coerced, is playing a role.

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