Monday, June 6, 2005

The Psychology of Confessions

[RESEARCH] When people who confessed to crimes are exonerated by DNA evidence it raises questions about the reliability of confessions. The American Psychological Society's journal, Psychological Science in the Public Interest explores the issues:
The Psychology of Confessions: A Review of the Literature and Issues.

The summary states:

* * * In recent years, psychologists from the clinical, personality, developmental, cognitive, and social areas have brought their theories and research methods to bear on an analysis of confession evidence, how it is obtained, and what impact it has on judges, juries, and other people.

Drawing on individual case studies, archival reports, correlational studies, and laboratory and field experiments, this monograph scrutinizes a sequence of events during which confessions may be obtained from criminal suspects and used as evidence. First, we examine the preinterrogation interview, * * *

Second, we examine the Miranda warning and waiver, * * *

Third, we examine the modern police interrogation, * * * Fourth, we examine the confession itself, discussing theoretical perspectives and research on why people confess during interrogation. * * *

Fifth, we examine the consequences of confession evidence as evaluated by police and prosecutors, followed by judges and juries in court. Research shows that confession evidence is inherently prejudicial, that juries are influenced by confessions despite evidence of coercion and despite a lack of corroboration, and that the assumption that "I’d know a false confession if I saw one" is an unsubstantiated myth. Finally, we address the role of psychologists as expert witnesses and suggest a number of possible safeguards. In particular, we argue that there is a need to reform interrogation practices that increase the risk of false confessions and recommend a policy of mandatory videotaping of all interviews and interrogations.
An editorial in the issue, "The Devil in Confessions," is by Elizabeth F. Loftus, a professor of psychology at UC Irvine who is an affiliate professor at the UW Law School.

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