News 07.12.10

“An Overdependence on Confessions”

A story on

the front page of yesterday’s Chicago Tribune

reviews two possible false confession cases in Illinois – and explores a troubling trend nationwide of prosecutions based on confessions or admissions, even when evidence contradicts the statements.

Jerry Hobbs has been in jail for five years in north suburban Chicago, awaiting trial for the murder of his daughter and her friend. He gave a videotaped confession after nearly 20 hours of interrogation. Now, DNA evidence has implicated another man in the crime and prosecutors have reopened the investigation.

Considering Hobbs’ case and a similar case from a town south of Chicago, the Tribune examines wrongful convictions and what Stanford Law School Professor Larry Marshall calls “an overdependence on confessions.”

“The interrogation itself is stressful enough to get innocent people to confess,” said Saul Kassin, a psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “But add to that a layer of grief and shock and perhaps even some guilt — ‘I should have been there’ — and then that the parent is trying like hell to be cooperative because they want the murder of their child solved.”

About 25 percent of wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing have involved false confessions or admissions. Rob Warden, the Executive Director of Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, told the Tribune that it’s often hard for juries to grasp why someone would confess to a crime they didn’t commit.

“You can’t imagine you’d ever confess to something you didn’t do,” said Warden. “But at some point people simply lose their will to resist. That’s the danger of prolonged interrogation.”


Read more about false confessions and wrongful convictions

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