More than 40 people have given confessions since 1976 that DNA evidence later showed were false, says University of Virginia law Prof. according Brandon Garrett, the New York Times reports. Experts have long known that some kinds of people – including the mentally impaired, the mentally ill, the young, and the easily led – are the likeliest to be induced to confess. There are also people who says they were pressed beyond endurance by persistent interrogators.
New research shows how people who were apparently uninvolved in a crime could provide such a detailed account of what occurred, allowing prosecutors to claim that only the defendant could have committed the crime. Garrett draws on trial transcripts, recorded confessions, and other background materials to show how incriminating facts got into those confessions – by police introducing important facts about the case, whether intentionally or unintentionally, during the interrogation. To defense lawyers, the new research is eye opening. “In the past, if somebody confessed, that was the end,” said Peter Neufeld, a co-founder of the Innocence Project. “You couldn't imagine going forward.” The notion that such detailed confessions might be deemed voluntary because the defendants were not beaten or coerced suggests that courts should not simply look at whether confessions are voluntary, Neufeld said. “They should look at whether they are reliable.” Garrett said he was surprised by the complexity of the confessions he studied. “I expected,and think people intuitively think, that a false confession would look flimsy,” like someone saying simply, “I did it,” he said.