ISSUES IN FORENSIC
- Laboratory evidence dramatically demonstrates the relative
ease with which confessions can be coerced from naive subjects. One of the procedures of a
1996 experiment resulted in 100% of the subjects signing a false confession, and 65% of
those subjects genuinely believed they were guilty.
- Police personnel are often trained to interrogate suspects
in a stepwise manner that: (1) Confronts the suspect with his supposed guilt, (2) Develops
psychological themes to justify or excuse the crime, (3) Interrupts any statements of
denial expressed by the suspect, (4) Overcomes the suspect's insisting he could not have
committed the crime, (5) Interferes with the suspect "tuning-out" during the
interrogation, (6) Demonstrates sympathy and understanding while urging the suspect to
"tell the truth," (7) Provides the suspect a face-saving explanation for his
alleged crime, (8) Leads the suspect into recounting the details of the supposed crime,
and (9) Converts these apparent details into a written confession.
- Training programs frequently lead police interrogators into
assuming they can identify whether suspects are truthful or deceptive by observing their
body language and verbal habits. The relevant research, however, clearly demonstrates that
relying on these kinds of cues does not accurately discriminate between truthfulness and
- Some false confessions occur when interrogators rely on
"maximization" techniques. These techniques intimidate suspects by overstating
the seriousness of the charges, and sometimes resorting to exaggerated or false claims
about the evidence available to the interrogator. Maximization techniques persuade
suspects that they would do well to cooperate with the interrogator, otherwise they will
be in even more trouble.
- Other false confessions occur when interrogators rely on
"minimization" techniques. These techniques suggest socially acceptable
rationales for the suspect's alleged criminal conduct. Minimization techniques lull
suspects into a mistaken sense of security, believing that the interrogator
sympathetically understands their plight; and therefore, will help them.
- Some false confessions can be classified as the
"coerced-compliant" type. In these cases, the confession merely amounts to an
act of compliance. Suspects actually know they are innocent, but confess believing that
their confession will lead to a more beneficial outcome than not confessing.
Interrogators' exaggerated or false claims regarding the evidence available to them are
often instrumental in obtaining coerced-compliant confessions.
- Other false confessions can be classified as the
"coerced-internalized" type. In these cases, suspects actually come to believe
they are guilty of committing a crime. Coerced-internalized confessions occur when
anxious, confused suspects feel overwhelmed by very suggestive interrogation tactics. In
particular, interrogators typically offer suspects a rationale as to how they could have
committed the crime, and then forgotten it.
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© 2011 Dr. Terence W. Campbell, Ph.D., ABPP