Deborah Davis and Richard A. Leo, The Problem of Interrogation-Induced False Confession: Sources of Failure in Prevention and Detection, in Stephen Morewitz & Mark Goldstein, eds., The Handbook of Forensic Sociology and Psychology (Springer, 2013 Forthcoming) is now available on SSRN.
Interrogation-induced false confessions are a systemic feature of American criminal justice. In the last few decades, scholars have assembled evidence of instances of false confessions that resulted in wrongful convictions. Despite procedural safeguards and a constitutional prohibition against legally coercive interrogation techniques, American law enforcement continues to elicit false confessions. In particular, American law enforcement interrogation techniques display two problematic features that have the potential to increase the occurrence of false confessions: (1) an assumption of guilt that promotes the misclassification of innocent suspects as likely guilty; and (2) the still-coercive nature of interrogation tactics that include strong incentives promoting confession as the mechanism to achieve the best legal outcomes and that contaminate the content of the confessions they elicit.
In this article, we address two questions: (1) Why do false confessions occur, and what can be done to prevent them?; and (2) Why do false confessions remain undetected once elicited, and what be done to more successfully identify them when they do occur? We particularly emphasize the role of failures of relevant knowledge and understanding among those who elicit and misjudge false confessions.