? False Confessions and Forensic Interviewing

by | Apr 19, 2019 |

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Police-induced false confessions are among the leading causes of wrongful convictions and since the late 1980s, six studies alone have documented approximately 250 interrogation-induced false confessions. Police-induced false confessions occur primarily in the more serious cases, especially homicides and other high-profile felonies. More than 80 percent of the 125 false confessions documented by Professors Steve Drizin and Richard Leo occurred in homicide cases. 

In fact, false confessions make for the leading cause of wrongful convictions in homicide cases. Learn why people falsely confess to serious crimes they never committed and get some important tips on forensic interviewing from two of the nation’s top forensic interviewers on this fascinating episode of “A Thread of Evidence.”

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Dr. Ron Martinelli

Ron Martinelli, Ph.D., CMI-V, is a nationally renowned forensic criminologist and retired police detective with the San Jose (CA) Police Department. Dr. Martinelli directs the nation’s only Forensic Death Investigations & Independent Review Team and is the author of the new book, “The Truth Behind the Black Lives Matter Movement and the War on Police.”

The Show: A Thread of Evidence deals with real crime stories, their victims, violators, cops, and forensic investigators who solve those crimes and bring the bad guys to justice. Go out onto the mean streets, visit the crime scenes and work in the forensic lab with your host nationally renowned forensic criminologist and investigator, DrRon Martinelli.

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Blake McConnell
Blake McConnell
2 years ago

I enjoyed your podcast on false confessions. During my law enforcement career, I have witnessed two confessions later determined to be false. The first occurred when I was interviewing a suspect by myself and the second occurred as I monitored someone else interviewing a suspect that I had previously interviewed. Both cases involved missing children in Texas. Minimization was used as an interrogation tactic in both interviews. Both suspects were in the vulnerable population of those who might falsely confess, i.e., both were adult males with cognitive impairments—one slight, one more apparent. In both cases, I understood the confessions might have been unreliable because of my training in false confessions. After subsequent attempts to verify details of both confessions, each were determined to be highly improbable and investigative resources were directed elsewhere. Both cases are now solved so we know the confessions were false. In a perfect world, false confessions do not survive the scrutiny of thorough investigations. However, through the work of the Innocence Project, we know people have falsely confessed and neither the investigators who obtained the confessions, their co-workers, their managers, the prosecutors, nor anyone else influential in these investigations realized that something was seriously wrong. Ineffective counsel appears to be another common element in these cases. While this does not excuse a faulty investigation, this is another “safety-net” failure in the process that allows false confessions to become wrongful convictions. Hopefully, as more and more law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and defense attorneys become educated on the earmarks of false confessions, the need to fully record suspect interviews to look for these earmarks, and the need to corroborate confessions, the notion that false confessions can potentially lead to wrongful convictions will become a thing of the past.

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