Last month I testified in South Carolina as a false confessions expert. Over the strong objections of the prosecutor, the judge ruled that the expert witness on false confessions can assist the jury in understanding the counter-intuitive phenomenon of false confessions. Courts around the country increasingly reach this conclusion and allow such testimony.
A few weeks ago the Supreme Court of Montana reversed a conviction (in a case I was involved with years ago) because the trial court wrongly allowed the defendant’s confession into evidence. The court based its decision, in part, on misrepresentations made by law enforcement to the defendant. Insofar as such misrepresentations contribute to false confessions, this is an important ruling.
Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, one of the leading firms for training interrogators, now acknowledges that the Reid Technique contributes to false confessions. Wicklander will no longer promote confrontational modes of interrogation.
My testimony last week in a case in Vermont means I have now been qualified as a false confessions expert in 17 states.
Billy Wayne Cope, who spent the last 16 years of his life imprisoned for a crime he almost certainly did not commit, passed away last month. Most neutral observers agree that Cope gave a false confession in a truly tragic case.
Courts increasingly permit defendants to offer a false confessions expert witness to educate the jury about (among other things) the interrogation methods that contribute to false confessions. I personally have testified in 25 cases to date.
Prosecutors often emphasize to the jury that the defendant waived his Miranda rights and agreed to talk. But what follows? People who give false confessions are, by definition, innocent. And most innocent people feel they have no reason not to talk.