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Scottish Psychologist’s Study Focuses On Why the Innocent May Confess to Crimes

by Derek Gilna

Dr. Faye Skelton of Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland, has published a report detailing the tendency of some individuals to confess to crimes they did not commit. She noted that research from the United States shows that, “over 25% of people later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession.”

Part of the reason has to do with coercive interrogation techniques, first formulated by former Chicago police officer John Reid. Along with Northwestern Law Professor Fred Inbau, Reid helped institute what has been termed the “Reid Technique,” which was incorporated into training manuals for the Chicago Police Department and became the norm in the United States. These techniques are still in use in the United States and Canada. Reid went on to achieve notoriety for his use of lie detectors, which supplemented the results of testing with aggressive questioning, increasing pressure on the accused.

Under the Reid method, interrogators of suspects first look for any indicia of deception, and if detected, according to Skelton, the questioning will presume guilt. Statements by the accused professing innocence are then disregarded and told that their explanations are false.

Interrogators often lie about what the facts or evidence of the crime are, and might say that the suspects failed their lie detector test and that their DNA tests indicate that they are guilty, while feeding details of the crime to the suspects, all the while encouraging them to confess to it.

Many criminal justice experts such as Skelton contend this sort of aggressive questioning can often result in an innocent suspect incriminating himself, especially in the face of sleep deprivation and non-stop questioning. People with low self-confidence or low IQ are especially susceptible to making a false confession.

According to Skelton, these techniques are not used in the United Kingdom, which relies upon an investigative interview that focuses on gathering evidence rather than getting a false confession to close a file.

As a result, she said, this results in evidence of greater quality. If a confession is obtained in Scotland, it must be corroborated by evidence independent of the confession, plus an audio or video recording is an essential part of that corroborating evidence.

This recording of purported confessions would tend to expose aggressive, suggestive, or leading questions that could possibly alter a person’s memory of an occurrence, especially those with psychological deficiencies. 


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