3 Ways Coercive Questioning Brings False Confessions, Wrongful Convictions

Many crime-based movies have been made about the wrongly accused and imprisoned, but the scenario plays out often in real life as well. One contributing factor continuing to draw interest from the legal profession and law enforcement is coercive police interrogation – and how it can influence a false confession by an innocent suspect.

According to The Innocence Project, which focuses on the exoneration of falsely convicted felons, between 1989 and 2016 false confessions occurred in 31 percent of DNA-exonerated cases, and in 63 percent DNA exonerations involving homicides. Concerns about false confessions reached the point where a long-used interrogation technique was discredited by a large police consulting firm due to the risk of it producing false confessions.

“Juries need to have a comprehensive understanding of interrogation,” says Brian Leslie  (http://www.criminalcaseconsultants.com), an author and expert analyst of coercive police interrogation techniques who has been retained in high-profile criminal trials throughout the United States.

“They need to know how an interrogation is broken down and how the interrogator determined the ‘presumption of guilt,’ which is a prerequisite for conducting such an interrogation.”

Leslie says there’s an important distinction between an interview – the purpose of which is fact-finding and gathering evidence – and an interrogation. The purpose of an interrogation is to solicit a confession.

“When a presumption of guilt is based on bias, or inaccurate, unvetted information and not on evidence, that may result in a wrong suspect being targeted,” Leslie says. “Thus,  the interrogator is forced to resort to coercive methods, which increases the potential for a false confession.”

Leslie explains three ways suspects can be coerced into giving a false confession:

Minimization. This is when an interrogator minimizes the culpability of the suspect, trying to get the suspect to drop their guard when answering. “An excellent example of this would be if an interviewer tells a suspect that the offense he committed was not a serious one and that the most important thing is to be honest, and ‘man up,’ because ‘everyone makes mistakes,’ “ Leslie says. “The interviewer is appealing to the suspect’s male ego and suggesting that by just admitting to the crime, people would understand and respect his honesty.”

Vulnerability. In this scenario, the interrogator takes advantage of a suspect’s mental defect, personality, age, etc. “Typically, these suspects are alcoholics or drug users, those with mental disabilities, maybe a person who may have deep-seeded religious or political beliefs,” Leslie says. “Certain types are vulnerable to manipulative tactics or coercive questioning by the interviewer. A low IQ may also affect a person’s ability to articulate answers or not fully understand the questions asked. Also vulnerable are teens or persons who speak English as a second language.

Word and narrative integration. “The interviewer changes the word usage of the suspect to support the interviewer’s narrative,” Leslie says. “An example of this would be changing the suspect’s word from ‘hit’ to the word ‘whacked,’ or ‘moved’ to ‘shook.’ That makes the context more dramatic.”

“Coercive questioning by an interviewer does not necessarily mean there was misconduct by the interviewer,” Leslie says. “And although coercive questioning during an interrogation plays a vital role in how false confessions occur, a crucial component to any interrogation is the investigation that preceded it and how it was conducted.”

Study shows cutting prison time by 1/5 doesn’t increase recidivism

A new study by Abt Associates shows that cutting average federal prison time by 19 percent can save vast sums of money with little effect on public safety. Shortening sentences by 7.5 months would enable a reduction of 33,203 prison beds without any significant increase in a return to federal prison by those released. If the Bureau of Prisons closed prisons instead of just shrinking the number of beds across the board, the report said, the Bureau could save money two ways. It could pare marginal costs such as food and considerable fixed costs such as administrative overhead and maintenance.

The report said the shift also could trim the substantial social costs of mass incarceration. Other studies have shown that long prison terms degrade a person’s skills. Loss of employment can result in a loss of healthcare, a loss of income for individuals and their families, and other losses of social support. In addition, the absence of a parent can produce developmental issues for children and promote the development of antisocial behavior.

Prison incarceration also raises issues of participation in a democratic society. Prisoners can’t vote or be counted in the U.S. Census at their home address, depriving their communities of political clout and appropriate funding levels for population-based programs. Thus the shorter prison terms can help the prisoner, family and broader community.

The new report marries two Abt capabilities: our technical econometric prowess and our unique experience processing and compiling vast amounts of federal prison data. We have been doing that over the last five years under a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the Federal Justice Statistics Program (FJSP). Abt processes, links and analyzes administrative records on every individual who comes in contact with the federal criminal justice system, from when the person is booked to post-conviction community supervision. The data in the study covered U.S. citizens who were serious offenders sentenced under federal sentencing guidelines from 1999 to 2014.

The authors–William Rhodes, Gerald G. Gaes, Ryan Kling and Christopher Cutler–note that economic and community benefits are not decisive enough for everyone to justify a policy change. Many believe that “people deserve punishment commensurate to the harm caused by their criminal conduct,” the report said. But it added, “One can reduce time served for everyone and still make punishment proportional to the seriousness of the crime.” Read the full article here: recidivism study.

This project was supported by Cooperative Agreement 2016-BJ-CX-K044, awarded by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Points of view in this document are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

NC bar accuses attorney of preying on vulnerable clients

The North Carolina Bar is accusing a Florida attorney of defrauding, deceiving and embezzling money from two mentally disabled clients declared innocent after serving 31 years in prison. The North Carolina Bar filed a complaint against Orlando lawyer Patrick Megaro. He is accused of taking one-third of a $750,000 award given to Henry McCollum and his half-brother Leon Brown, despite having done virtually no work on their behalf. The bar complaint lists 16 ethical violations. Read more about the case at The Marshall Project.

Tampa attorney accused of having sex in jail

jailInvestigators in Pinellas County, Florida say a Tampa attorney had sex with a woman in jail several times, according to The Tampa Bay Times. 54-year-old Andrew Spark had sex with the woman in a private room where lawyers could meet with their clients, according to the sheriff’s department. Deputies also say Spark solicited sex from another woman in the Pinellas County Jail in exchange for depositing money in her commissary account. Spark reportedly told the woman he would be shooting footage for a porn video titled “Girls in Jail.” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says it’s possible Spark may have attempted the scheme with other incarcerated women in Central Florida.


Why You Need A Criminal Defense Attorney

Man released from prison after being in jail for 13 years.

When you find yourself facing criminal charges, you have to get the services of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. After all, being charged with a crime is a serious matter. Even if you are slapped with a relatively light offense like drunk driving, you will still need an experienced DUI lawyer by your side. Without good legal representation, a conviction is more likely, and that will lead to substantial fines and possible jail time.

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize the importance and benefits of having a good criminal defense attorney defending you. Let’s list some of the reasons why you need a criminal defense lawyer if you get arrested for a crime.

Criminal defense attorneys know the law and the process

A criminal defense attorney has studied and trained to get a full understanding of every aspect of criminal law and court procedures. Whatever questions you might have about your case, you can be sure that your defense lawyer will be able to answer them. Aside from the ability to scrutinize every fact, evidence, and testimony presented in a criminal case, a criminal defense lawyer is also well-equipped to work the legal system by finding loopholes or inconsistencies that can help you with your case.

Criminal defense lawyers can protect your rights from Day 1

Keep in mind that since you’re a suspect in a crime, the police and prosecutors will naturally do what they can to pin the deed on you. Sometimes, however, your rights could get violated along the way, like not reading your Miranda rights at the time of your arrest or goading you into saying anything that could be used against you in court. But when you have a criminal defense attorney present, all of your Constitutionally-guaranteed rights will be fully protected.

Criminal defense attorneys know the people in the legal system

Criminal defense lawyers work with prosecutors and judges all the time. They know how to negotiate with prosecutors to get the best plea bargains, which is how most legal cases end. Their knowledge of the judge’s preferences, dislikes or leanings help them come up with arguments that will work. Such knowledge can only be obtained through experience, which is why getting a criminal defense attorney who has been practicing his profession for quite some time now is your best bet.

The importance of hiring a criminal defense attorney the soonest possible time can never be stated enough. And if you have more questions regarding criminal defense, check out the infographic below.

Graphic courtesy Arizona DUI Team