Special Issues in False Confessions
Posted on November 16th, 2012

The final panel of the 2012 TLR Symposium, held on November 9, 2012, focused on special issues regarding false confessions. Panel members included: Allison Redlich, Associate Professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the State University of New York at Albany; Jim Trainum, a retired law enforcement detective with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C.; and Jules Epstein, an Associate Professor of Law at Widener University School of Law, who teaches comparative criminal law and procedure. Marissa Boyers Bluestine, Esq., Legal Director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, served as the moderator.

The Link Between False Confessions and Convictions

Professor Redlich focused on how false confessions ultimately lead to convictions. She argued that police documentation is specifically designed to elicit confessions and that courts frequently rely on this documentation in determining whether a confession is admissible at trial. Redlich concluded that courts should not rely on this documentation in gauging the voluntariness of a confession, since police interrogation techniques are psychologically deceptive and focused solely upon gaining a confession.

The Need for Better Interrogation Training

Jim Trainum, who currently consults on both open cases and alleged wrongful conviction cases, became interested in the topic of false confessions as a result of obtaining one himself in 1994. Trainum discussed whether law enforcement has adequately responded to the large number of false confessions uncovered in recent years. He concluded that, while interrogation training now acknowledges the issue of false confessions, a disconnect remains between interrogation training and the techniques and tactics of the interrogator.

Lessons from Abroad 

Professor Epstein talked about what the U.S. could learn from how other countries deal with the issue of false confessions. He argued that the criminal law and procedure systems of the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands have instituted safeguards that protect against obtaining false confessions without lowering conviction rates. Epstein concluded that the U.S. system should adopt certain aspects of these international approaches, in which the interrogation focuses on the investigation rather than the acquisition of a confession.

Bradley Cohen
Temple University School of Law, J.D. Candidate 2014