Experts have long known that some kinds of people — including the mentally impaired, the mentally ill, the young and the easily led — are the likeliest to be induced to confess. There are also people like Mr. Lowery, who says he was just pressed beyond endurance by persistent interrogators.
New research shows how people who were apparently uninvolved in a crime could provide such a detailed account of what occurred, allowing prosecutors to claim that only the defendant could have committed the crime.
To defense lawyers, the new research is eye opening. “In the past, if somebody confessed, that was the end,” said Peter J. Neufeld, a founder of the Innocence Project, an organization based in Manhattan. “You couldn’t imagine going forward.”
The notion that such detailed confessions might be deemed voluntary because the defendants were not beaten or coerced suggests that courts should not simply look at whether confessions are voluntary, Mr. Neufeld said. “They should look at whether they are reliable.”
The article goes on to discuss "contamination" and how the police will often introduce facts into the interrogation process in order to produce a more solid confession. For example, the wavering defendants says "I think I entered the apartment from the back door," and the officer says "You mean, the front door," and the defendant says,"Right, the front door, I entered from the front door..." etc. Essentially, you are feeding the facts of the case to defendant with which to confess.
Worse, the study found many of the defendants had actually been cleared by DNA testing and yet were convicted anyway because they had, after all, "confessed."
Proving innocence after a confession, however, is rare. Eight of the defendants in Professor Garrett’s study had actually been cleared by DNA evidence before trial, but the courts convicted them anyway.As hard as it is for most people to believe they could be persuaded to confess to a crime they did not commit, the fact remains is that you could, and probably verily easily given the right circumstances of coercion, contamination, pressure and fear.
Some defendants’ confessions even include mistakes fed by the police. Earl Washington Jr., a mentally impaired man who spent 18 years in prison and came within hours of being executed for a murder he did not commit, stated in his confession that the victim had worn a halter top. In fact, she had worn a sundress, but an initial police report had stated that she wore a halter top.
Juries should always be reminded that beyond a reasonable doubt could include so-called "confessions" as well.