Thursday, February 23, 2012

The False Confession Industry

When questions arose about whether or the teens that allegedly assaulted and raped a female jogger in Central Park years ago were wrongfully convicted, conservative columnist Ann Coulter remarked that of course the convictions were correct. Why? Police had the teens' confessions, she wrote, which should have eliminated all future questions regarding justice in that case.

Indeed, most people believe that a confession is the Gold Standard of criminal evidence, and that a confession should trump everything else, including forensic evidence (such as DNA matches) and even the Laws of Time and Space. Author David K. Shipler has an intriguing article on the New York Times op-ed page that goes into some detail about false confessions and the smarmy tactics police and prosecutors use to get them.

Beginning with the interrogation of a juvenile police tricked into confessing to a crime he didn't commit (it seems that the boy was in juvenile lockup when the murder of a policeman was committed, although that little fact did not stop police from trying to get him convicted), Shipler notes that jurors don't like to believe that innocent people would falsely confess, and judges don't want to believe it, either. Yet, they do. Writes Shipler:
False confessions have figured in 24 percent of the approximately 289 convictions reversed by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project. Considering that DNA is available in just a fraction of all crimes, a much larger universe of erroneous convictions surely exists. If nearly a quarter of overturned convictions involves a false confession, police interrogations are creating an epidemic of injustice.
And who confesses? He notes:
If you have never been tortured, or locked up and verbally threatened, you may find it hard to believe that anyone would confess to something he had not done. Intuition holds that the innocent do not make false confessions. What on earth could be the motive? To stop the abuse? To curry favor with the interrogator? To follow some fragile thread of imaginary hope that cooperation will bring freedom?

Yes, all of the above. Psychological studies of confessions that have proved false show an overrepresentation of children, the mentally ill or mentally retarded, and suspects high on drugs or drunk on liquor. They are susceptible to suggestion, eager to please authority figures, disconnected from reality or unable to defer gratification. Children often think, as Felix did, that they will be jailed if they keep up their denials and will get to go home if they just go along with the interrogator. Mature adults of normal intelligence have also confessed falsely after being manipulated.
One of the most egregious cases of false confession involved the wrongful conviction of Martin Tankleff, who at age 17 was alleged to have brutally murdered his parents. Tankleff was in prison for 17 years until his conviction was overturned a few years ago, and it turned out that police and prosecutors hid exculpatory evidence in order to better secure a conviction.

The Tankleff case hits home because I am good friends with a person who was working with the lawyer who finally was successful in securing Tankleff's release from prison. Legal documents that I read long before they became public were quite chilling.

First, there was another suspect who clearly had motive to kill the Tankleffs and he had a reputation for violence. Second, had personal ties with a police detective who just happened to be involved with the Tankleff case and was in a good position to lead investigators away from the real killer. Third, the nature of the evidence itself demonstrated that Martin was not the likely killer.

Yet, none of that mattered to police and prosecutors. They wanted a conviction, and Martin was a convenient target. Writes Shipler:
A cunning lie generated a false confession from Martin Tankleff, 17, who found his parents one morning in their Long Island home slashed and stabbed, his mother dead, his father barely alive. The boy called 911 and was taken for questioning. Getting nowhere, Detective K. James McCready decided on a trick. He walked to an adjacent room within hearing distance, dialed an extension on the next desk, picked up the phone and faked a conversation with an imaginary officer at the hospital. He went back to the son and told him that his father had come out of his coma and said, “Marty, you did it.” In fact, Seymour Tankleff never regained consciousness and died a month later.
Martin soon confessed to the killing (and he managed to get the details of the murder wrong, but that didn't matter to police and prosecutors), and although he quickly recanted, the confession was allowed during the trial and the jurors dutifully convicted an innocent man.

As is often the case in American life today, where there is government wrongdoing, often there is someone to make money from it. With false confessions it is John E. Reid & Associates. One of the "tricks" that Reid teaches is how to slip in a Miranda warning without the person being interrogated realizing what is happening. In other words, Reid teaches police and other "interrogators" who to manipulate and lie, knowing that these things often bring about false confessions. However, convictions, not truth fills the bottom line for Reid.

While I would agree that most people in prison are guilty, nonetheless the realization that probably thousands of people languishing behind bars are innocent is not something that decent people should tolerate. Once upon a time, we depended upon police and prosecutors to be the agents that would investigate and find out what the truth really was.

Unfortunately, those days are long behind us. Truth no longer matters, and it no longer matters with the people who claim always to be telling the truth, and whose lies have horrible and bloody consequences.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The lawless LMJC

Two years ago this blog went all-out during the Tonya Craft trial and aftermath because it was clear that cops like Tim Deal, prosecutors like Buzz Franklin, Chris Arnt, and Len Gregor, along with "judge" brian outhouse were knowingly trying to railroad an innocent person into prison. The not-guilty verdict and jurors' comments afterward about the outright crookedness of that trial apparently have had no effect on the LMJC crowd except to make them even more determined to get away with lawlessness.

Today, it is Joe Mowish, who has been arrested again on "gambling" charges when, in fact, that Franklin knows that Mowish's activities are legal. This is not a situation of a prosecutor and police misreading the law or misunderstanding it. No, this is a pure power play that is illegal and in a place where the law was respected would lead to disbarment of Buzz Franklin and his staff.

Because the Georgia State Bar does not consider prosecutorial misconduct to be something worth investigating, any actions to deal with the dishonesty and outright lawbreaking of Franklin, outhouse, and Deal are going to have to come from the citizens at large. That means that jurors should be hyper-careful when prosecutors lie, when Deal and others in "law enforcement" testify, and when people like outhouse make outrageous ruling.

There are a number of cases in the LMJC that have come to my attention and I will be looking into them. From what I can see, as long as the people who live in Dade, Chattooga, Walker, and Catoosa counties are happy with the kind of people who are in public office, we also can expect the kind of dishonest and illegal behavior we saw with the Craft case and everything else that these people foist upon the innocent.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Apologies for not posting this week

Things have been overwhelming recently with work and other things. I apologize for not having any posts the past three weeks, but I do have some things in the works. Thank you for your patience.