A provocative Time Magazine article about false confessions resulting in wrongful convictions.
The biggest tragedy when police elicit a false confession is that an innocent person may spend years, if not the rest of their lives in jail. If you’re not big on individual liberties, think about the other big tragedy. Namely, that the real criminal continues to walk our streets, preying on other victims.
I remember well the hysteria which engulfed New York City during the time of the Central Park jogger case. People were outraged and wanted justice. The police and prosecutors were determined to bring the case to arrest and a successful prosecution. One wants to believe that law enforcement officials are not intentionally setting out to convict innocent people. However, cutting corners and using nefarious means to get someone to confess is, at best highly irresponsible; and, at worst, criminal in its own right.
Being a lawyer myself, I want to believe that prosecutors are honest people who put forth the strongest case they can, based on the evidence the police supply them. Am I being naive? The police, and specifically the New York City Police Department (NYPD), are stats driven. They want to close cases and move on to the next. If they can strong-arm an arrestee (one that they presume to be guilty in the first place) into confessing, it makes for a quick and tidy resolution of the case. It also makes for a certain conviction. Combine this with the hype caused by politicians who want to make the electorate feel that they are doing a good job, and you have a recipe for disaster.
As the article indicates, it is often youth, or intellectually challenged individuals who fall victim to these tactics. Many times, they are minorities and poor, who do not have access to adequate legal representation. That is not always the case, however. We all are potential victims of the strong arm of the law.
It is this writers opinion that all confessions should be videotaped. Otherwise, there is no way to know whether the confession is truly voluntary, or if it is the product of coercive tactics. If there is nothing to hide, the videotape should not be a problem.
A word to the wise: Always exercise your right to counsel. Ask to speak to an attorney as soon as you are taken into custody. Keep restating your desire to speak to your attorney before you will answer any questions. Even one who is truly innocent is best served by remaining silent.