Heard something truly frightening during this morning’s Morning Edition show on NPR. It was a small but terrible statistic buried in a story about a brain-damaged man who’s been in prison 23 years and who recently won a new trial after showing that police seem to have wrung a false confession out of him.
Here’s the money graph:
There have been 300 people exonerated by DNA evidence. When the Innocence Project reviewed those cases, it found that in 1 out of 4, a defendant later proven innocent had at one point given a self-incriminating statement, pleaded guilty or just confessed.
One out of four. It’s an absolutely chilling number–far too high for comfort in a supposedly “free society.” And that’s just in cases in which DNA evidence was able to exonerate someone.
How are police able to wring a false confession out of a suspect who was actually innocent? Here’s one method, according to the NPR story: “police are allowed to trick someone and claim they have evidence, even when they don’t.”
The use of trickery, coercion or even just improper friendliness during a police confession apparently occurred recently on Maui. In March 2011, Maui 2nd Circuit Judge Joel August tossed out the confession of Matthew Goodman, who was pleading not guilty to two counts of first-degree electronic enticement of a minor (though arrested in 2007, Goodman’s case is still pending).
Goodman alleged, and August agreed, that (now former) Maui Police Detective Ken Prather had used “religious persuasion” to get Goodman to talk about the case after he had first requested an attorney. Here’s the relevant portion of August’s ruling, which appeared in the Mar. 8, 2011 Maui News:
[T]he defendant’s right to speak to counsel was overridden by the religious discussion entered into between the police officer and the defendant… This is after the police officer clearly understood that the defendant had acknowledged his deep religious beliefs. There should not have been any discussion about those once that had been acknowledged by the defendant. For all the court knows, officer Prather was doing that in his role as being a good Christian talking to another good Christian. I think the result of whatever discussion they had was that the defendant’s rights to obtain counsel were coerced and overridden. As a result of that, any testimony he gave, any statements he gave following his discussion with officer Prather needs to be suppressed.
Image: Wikimedia Commons