Law School Faculty Blog
26Sep/12

Leo on the Problem of Missing, Misrepresented, and Misunderstood Context in Criminal Confessions

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Brandon Garrett, a professor of law at the University of Virginia, published in 2011 an important book analyzing the first 250 DNA exonerations of innocent prisoners in the American criminal justice system (Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong). In 2012, the New England Law Review published a symposium volume on this book. Professor Deborah Davis (University of Nevada, Reno, Department of Psychology) and I were invited to write one of the articles commenting on Garrett’s book. Focusing on failures to detect false confessions, our article—“To Walk In Their Shoes: The Problem of Missing, Misrepresented, and Misunderstood Context in Judging Criminal Confessions”—addresses the issue of police contamination, which has been explored in our previous work as well as in Garrett’s recent book. We review some of Garrett’s most important findings and consider them in light of our own model of seven pathways from false confession to wrongful conviction. Davis and I cover these pathways (the biasing effects of confession evidence; tunnel vision and confirmation biases; motivational biases; emotional influences on thinking and behavior; institutional influences on evidence production and decision-making; incorrect relevant knowledge; and progressively constricting relevant evidence), which we argue have the effect of providing incomplete and/or inaccurate contextual information for evaluating the validity of confessions and thus interfere with the rational analysis of the information that is available. We conclude by arguing that the judicial system must take more care in evaluating defendants’ claims of contamination in false confessions.

Click here to read our article “To Walk In Their Shoes: The Problem of Missing, Misrepresented, and Misunderstood Context in Judging Criminal Confessions.”

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