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Vol. 74/No. 37      October 4, 2010

Cop interrogations
force false confessions
Since 1989 more than 250 people who were convicted of crimes in the United States have been exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing. Forty-two of them had “confessed.” Sixty percent of those exonerated are Black.

“How could innocent people convincingly confess to crimes they knew nothing about?” asks a recent article in the Stanford Law Review by University of Virginia law professor Brandon Garrett.

“False confessions do not happen simply by happenstance,” Garrett concludes. “They are carefully constructed during an interrogation and then reconstructed during any criminal trial that follows.”

Garrett details how cops feed facts to the accused to get them to make statements that will stand up in court. While the Virginia law professor states that police who obtain false confessions “may not have done so intentionally or recklessly,” the facts he cites tell a different story.

Some of the confessions were wrung from the accused before they were informed of their Miranda right to remain silent. The cops claimed the interrogations were being conducted before the person was officially in their custody.

One of the cases described is the frame-up conviction of Jeffrey Deskovic, 17 at the time, for rape and murder. Deskovic “was interrogated for hours over multiple sessions, including a session in which police had a tape recorder, but turned it on and off” whenever it suited them, the article says.

DNA tests conducted before the trial provided strong evidence that Deskovic was not involved. The district attorney told the jury to ignore the DNA evidence.

Deskovic, who is suing for violations of his civil rights after spending 16 years in prison, explained that believing “in the criminal justice system and being fearful for myself, I told them what they wanted to hear.”

According to Garrett, pressures brought on the accused ranged from “threats combined with offers of leniency, to threats of physical force. Many described harrowing interrogations lasting many hours or days.” This was sometimes combined with denial of food or sleep deprivation. In almost all of these 42 cases, the defendants later asked the court to suppress the confessions. Each time the judge refused.

To get a person to confess, the cops sometimes falsely stated they already had physical evidence or eyewitness testimony proving the person was guilty. That was the case in the 1989 “Central Park Jogger” case where five teenagers were framed up on charges of raping and beating a woman. Their convictions were overturned in 2002.

Garrett provides proof in case after case how the cops, once they forced an admission of guilt, worked, and reworked, the statements to tell the story they needed for conviction.

In the latest case, Phillip Bivens was freed from prison in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, September 16 after 30 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. DNA evidence exonerated Bivens and two codefendants, one of whom died in prison. Bivens had confessed after he was told he could get the death penalty if he did not plead guilty.
Related articles:
Protests answer L.A. cop brutality  
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