On ABC “Primetime” tonight was a special titled “Inside the Box.” It was about false confessions induced by police interview tactics.
In the first story, the police fed one a young man the details of a murder and rape during a gruelilng 18 hour interrogation. He was kept in a room until he told them what they wanted to hear. Those details were repeated to them in the form of a a very calm videotaped confession. The 18 hours preceding the confession were not recorded. Based on that confession, three men were convicted of murder and were sentenced to 33 years to life in prison. After 18 years, they were released from prison after DNA proved them to be innocent.
The show cited a study that found that 23% of people that were released from prison had actually confessed to the crime that they were convicted of. The reporter/host, Chris Cuomo, asked, “If you still think you would never confess to a crime you didn’t commit, listen to this.”
The next case is from right here in Georgia. Cherokee County to be exact. Roberto Rocha, 20 years old, voluntarily comes in for questioning about the murder of a classmate. At first, he is accused and vehemently denies any involvment and volunteers to take a lie detector test when the detectives don’t believe him. Over the course of the interview, police lie to Roberto numerous times. They shout and scream and get in his face. They provide details about the crime to him.
ABC brought in Stephen Drizzen, an expert on false confessions. He examines the video tape and concludes that the confession is false based on their techniques and because Roberto could not even provide the most basic details of the crime. He would tell them something that was totally wrong and then the police interrogators would provide him with the real details which he would go back and insert where the error was. He finally told them what they wanted to hear and when he stood up to leave, he was placed under arrest.
Good thing he has a stamped passport, dental records, photographs, plane tickets, postcards and witnesses that prove he was out of the country when the killing happened. Brian Steel, Roberto’s lawyer, said this was the best alibi he had ever seen. I have to agree and now apparantly, so does Captian Ron Hunton, who was one of the officers questioning Roberto. Here is Hunton’s quote, “You can’t take a confession and just lock that guy up and let a jury decide his guilt or innocence… I am not willing to take that chance.” He testified in favor of releasing Roberto from jail after 15 months.
ABC encourages the taping of the entire interrogation because it is the only way to protect against a false confession leading to a conviction. They point out that taping is only a requirement in 7 states.
The next several cases are all about computer voice stress analysis tests and the “doctor” that developed the technology for his company NITV (National Institute for Truth Verification). His name, Dr. Charles Humble. He is anything but humble and thinks his machine is great. He is not a medical doctor or even a PHD. He was awarded an Honorary Diploma for taking a few bible courses at a non-accredited school run out of a strip mall. This hack has been selling these machines to police departments and the military for $10,000 per unit. 1500 police departments have purchased the machine accoding to the interview. Several have stopped using it and the Pentagon has banned its use finding it to be unreliable. The machine had been used in Iraq, Afganistan and in Gitmo to interrogate, hold and release terror suspects.
The Crowe case. A 14 year old boy, Michael Crowe, was brought in for questioning about his sister’s death in the middle of the night and was hooked up to the CVSA. The boy denied the allegations. He was then told that he failed a VSA test. He was further told that it could pick up his subconscious. He was told the machine was very accurate. He then began to doubt his own memory. He ended up confessing to get out of the interrogation room feeling it was his only option. One week before his trial was suppose to begin, he was released after the real killer was identified by DNA evidence. The judge that released him said the machine was “no more reliable at truth detection than a Singer sewing machine.” The makers of the machine were sued by the family. The case was settled out of court. In the civil case, it was admitted by an executive in the company that the machine can only detect stress and can not detect a lie. On NITV’s website, they still say their machine was right and that the case was settled because their insurance company didn’t give them a chance to go to court.
OK, so now the viewer is sitting there thinking that these folks that confess are just idiots and that it couldn’t happen to them or someone that was smarter. Wrong. Next, they conduct experiments on some very bright college students. They set up a lab to look like an interrogation room. The students are brought in to see how fast they can type and are told whatever you do, don’t hit the “alt” key because it will cause the program to crash and computers to be damaged. If damaged the test taker will have to pay for that damage. The testers then set out to see if they can get them to confess to hitting the key, when they didn’t. One after another the students confess. The study found that the introduction of the false evidence (corroboration) increased the chances of a false confession.
Experts say there are two keys to false confessions. 1) an authority figure insisting on guilt; 2) providing false information to the suspect.
I think this is good information to get out to the public. Potential jurors come into court and give testimonial evidence so much weight when it is probably the least reliable evidence. Confessions are probably given more weight than any single piece of evidence by a jury. ABC seems to get it.
On a side note, ABC ended the show with an update from another show that aired a few weeks ago. It’s another Georgia case (Genarlow Wilson) that apparently (and rightfully) caused outrage to veiwers. The defendant was sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 10 years for consentual oral sex with a girl that was two years younger than he was. The story got a half million hits on their website after it aired. They reported that just today, the legislature passed the “Romeo & Juliet” provision that GACDL has been working hard to get. It is now a misdemeanor and not a felony and does not require registration as a sex offender. However, it is not retroactive and Mr. Wilson is stuck in jail with all his hopes on an appeal. Good luck to B.J. Bernstein on that appeal.