Have you ever sat on a jury for a criminal trial? Did the defendant confess to the crime? Did the prosecutor tell you that no rational person would confess to a crime he didn’t commit? You probably thought, well yes, of course, who in his right mind would confess to a crime he didn’t commit? From that point on, you’ve already decided the defendant is guilty. It’s not just you. The judge, the prosecutor, the witnesses, the rest of the jury, and worst of all, maybe even the defendant himself, believe the defendant is guilty based on a few words that fell out of his mouth in the midst of being accused of a heinous crime. You might think, great, let’s get this over with, it’s set, why have a trial? What if I next told you that more than two-thirds of persons later exonerated via DNA evidence were convicted based on a false confession?
False confession? How does something like a false confession even occur? Thoughts of authoritarian law enforcement and torture come to mind, but in reality false confessions are more often the result of a mixture of poorly trained law enforcement under intense societal pressure and vulnerable suspects who face even more unpleasant alternatives. Regardless of how a false confession comes about, the aftermath is most concerning. Once a confession comes out, everyone takes a giant sigh of relief. We caught the bad guy, here he is, all we need now is a conviction. In fact, conviction is likely to happen even if other evidence directly contradicts the suspect’s guilt. The rest of the criminal justice process seems to run like a train off its tracks. Evidence is displayed, arguments are made, but nothing seems relevant when the man accused has already admitted to committing the crime.
So how is it that we’ve reached the point where a large percentage of wrongfully convicted persons have confessed to crimes they did not commit? As the rational mind would conclude, it’s a structural malfunction in our criminal justice system. The blame is on all of us to stop the runaway train of false confession. Each of us needs to independently view a confession with skepticism. It’s one piece of evidence in the overall trial, and that is how it should be treated, with examinations designed to either support or discredit the weight of its evidentiary value. We are undermining our criminal justice system and perpetuating an aura of structural violence for vulnerable suspects if we continue to view it as iron door that shuts every avenue to acquittal before trial even begins.
If there is a false confession in your or your loved-one’s case, call the team that will fight to put that supposed “confession” in the light it belongs. We’re here if you need us 24/7/365.