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False confessions in criminal cases

What's behind suspects confessing to crimes they did not commit? Why is it so widespread? At a recent symposium for lawyers at Temple University in Philadelphia, attorneys, criminologists and psychologists discussed the phenomenon of false confessions.

First, it's far more common than one might think. At the Innocence Project at Benjamin Cardozo School in New York City, 25 percent of people freed as a result of DNA evidence had confessed to crimes they did not commit.

Some false confessions are the result of cognitive or emotional problems and people with these types of disabilities are especially vulnerable to pressure from police and other authority figures. Many experts have advocated to videotaping of all interrogations as a way to protect vulnerable suspects such as these.

Others confess to protect others. In some instances, they don't even know the details and confess to the wrong crime. However, police have been successful in putting such confessions to good use, even though they are highly flawed.

Although courts now frown on what was once called the "third degree," police still intimidate suspects to the point where they will say what they believe the officers want them to say. Suspects without prior experience of police methods are especially susceptible.

In Philadelphia, a judge recently ruled that an expert on false confessions could be heard by juries in support of defendants who had falsely confessed to crimes. However, false confessions will

Source: "False confessions taint many cases, Temple law forum told," by Joseph A. Slobodzian, Nov. 10, 2012.

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