New York's highest court said for the first time on Thursday that expert testimony about false confessions should be allowed at trial if it is relevant, reports the New York Times. But the court also seemed to set a high bar for determining that relevance: In a 5-to-2 decision, the judges upheld the convictions of Khemwatie Bedessie in the rape of a 4-year-old boy, arguing that the testimony of her expert witness was not germane to the specifics of her confession.
Still, the decision by the New York Court of Appeals was a welcome sign for defense lawyers and innocence advocates who have argued that police interrogation tactics can lead people to admit to crimes they did not commit. About a quarter of the convicts exonerated by DNA evidence nationwide gave false confessions, made self-incriminating statements or pleaded guilty, according to the Innocence Project. “That the phenomenon of false confessions is genuine has moved from the realm of startling hypothesis into that of common knowledge, if not conventional wisdom,” Judge Susan P. Read wrote in the majority opinion. An Albany Law School professor called the ruling “a big step.”