Pennsylvania Court Rules against False Confession Expert Testimony


In about 30 percent of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty. Experts who have studied these cases have determined that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but rather are sometimes motivated by external influences. These reputable experts often present their data on the causes of false confessions in criminal trials where a defendant is claiming innocence. But that is not the case in Pennsylvania.



Philadelphia Inquirer

reported that the state’s Supreme Court ruled against using expert false confession testimony in a 4-2 decision filed at the end of May:

Justice Thomas G. Saylor, joined by Justice Debra McCloskey Todd, dissented, saying whether to allow expert testimony on false confessions should be left to trial judges to decide on a case-by-case basis.


Saylor criticized what he called the “blanket exclusion” of social science research “based upon unanalyzed assumptions about juror capabilities, even as these assumptions are challenged by demonstrations of wrongful convictions and developing behavioral science.”

The decision reversed an earlier ruling that allowed testimony of a nationally known expert on false confessions in the murder trial of Jose Alicea, an Olney man accused in a 2005 shooting during a fight at a local restaurant. The Supreme Court ruling paves the way for Alicea’s trial. His attorneys argued that since he has an extremely low IQ, it is crucial for jurors to understand why he confessed. He was 19 years old when he was brought in for questioning at 2 a.m. After several hours, he began implicating himself. According to his attorneys, there is no other evidence linking him to the murder.


According to the


, Lawrence S. Krasner — Alicea’s lawyer — said the Supreme Court’s ruling was “a wrong decision by a court staking out an unscientific position that will continue to convict innocent people, encourage improper interrogations by police, and cost citizens a fortune in lost lives and lost taxpayer dollars.”


Krasner’s request to have Richard Leo, a nationally known expert on police interrogation and false confessions, testify why some people are more vulnerable to falsely confess was initially granted as long as Leo’s opinions were about the general scientific findings regarding false confessions and not about Alicea.


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