Attorneys often ask me about the admissibility of expert testimony on false confessions. The short answer is that it depends on the judge and jurisdiction, but such testimony is increasingly deemed admissible. I personally have been qualified as a false confessions expert in a dozen states.

Voluntary Beatings

A new biography of Thurgood Marshall describes his testimony at his confirmation hearing. When a senator asked how Miranda could apply in cases where defendants confessed voluntarily, Marshall replied, “I tried a case in Oklahoma where the man ‘voluntarily’ confessed after he was beaten up for six days.” Of course, these days confessions are rarely beaten out of people. False confessions instead result from psychological tactics. While the causes may have changed, the problem of false confessions remains severe.

Actual Innocence

Julie Seaman is author of an important op-ed in today’s New York Times, titled “When Innocence Is No Defense.”  The article discusses how the wrongly convicted often remain incarcerated even after they are exonerated by DNA or other evidence.  This is particularly true of people convicted based on false confessions.

Unsigned, Unwelcome

As noted in today’s New York Times (July 21), a series of unsigned Supreme Court opinions this term has made it more difficult for prisoners to challenge their convictions. Given that we’ve learned that wrongful convictions (many based on false confessions) are surprisingly widespread, this development is most unwelcome.