The Consequences of False Confessions Revisited in the DNA Age

Steven Drizin, Northwestern University
Richard Leo, University of California, Irvine

ABSTRACT
In recent years, numerous individuals who confessed to and were convicted of serious felony crimes have been released from prison and declared factually innocent, often (but not exclusively) as a result of DNA tests that were not possible at the time of arrest, prosecution and conviction. DNA testing has also exonerated numerous individuals who confessed to and were charged with serious crimes before their cases went to trial. In this paper, we analyze more than 100 recent cases of proven police-induced false confessions and how these cases were treated by the criminal justice system. In particular, we are interested in how criminal justice officials and triers of fact respond to confession evidence, whether it biases their evaluations and overwhelms other case evidence (particularly evidence of innocence), and how likely police-induced false confessions are to lead to the wrongful prosecution, conviction and/or incarceration of the innocent. Our analysis suggests that the problem of police-induced false confession in the American criminal justice system is significant and deeply troubling, that the problem may be far more significant than ever thought before, and that it has profound implications for the study of miscarriages of justice as well as the proper administration of justice.

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Updated 05/20/2006