False Confessions: How Innocent People Confess to Crime in the US
Al Jazeera (2019)
This documentary is about powerful psychological techniques American cops use to pressure innocent suspects into making false confessions. It also interviews public interest attorneys who take on the arduous work of legally exonerating prisoners whose convictions result from false confessions. More than 25% of all wrongful convictions that are overturned are based on false confessions.
One of the most common tactics American police use to extract false confessions is to lie to suspects – usually by claiming evidence that conclusively establishes their guilt. In most countries, it’s illegal to lie to suspects in this way.
The documentary examines three convictions based on false confessions that have been successfully overturned. One, the infamous Central Part 5 case (see See Central Park 5: A Classic Case of Racist Law Enforcement ), was only overturned when the real perpetrator stepped forward and claimed responsibiliy. The oldest suspect in the Central Park 5 case spent 13 years in adult prison (including four years in solitary confinement) before he being proven innocent.
The documentary can’t be embedded for copyright reasons but can be viewed friend until April 10 at the Al Jazeera website: False Confessions
Last night Maori TV showed The Central Part Five, the harrowing story of five African American teenagers who were wrongfully convicted of gang raping, battering and nearly murdering a white jogger in Central Park in 1989.
The most distressing part of the film is the beginning, which depicts how Central Precinct cops terrorized five innocent teenagers (age 14-16) – by depriving them food, water and sleep – into signing a a confession in which they incriminated each other of various aspects of the crime. Although they were all minors, no parents were present in the interrogation room, a violation of New York state law.
There was no consistency whatsoever between the five statements as to the exact location of the rape or exactly who was responsible for grabbing the woman, beating her, undressing her or having sex with her. None of the boys had traces of her blood on them, and there was no trace of their DNA on her body. Moreover the timeline constructed by the police establishes clearly they were in another area of the park when the woman was attacked.
In 2001, they were exonerated when a convicted serial rapist came forward and confessed to the crime. When the police investigated, not only did his DNA match the rape kit sample, but he related details of the crime that were never made public.
The eldest, who was sentenced as an adult, has served 13 years when he was released in 2002. The others had received conditional releases after 7 years, though one had be re-arrested on a drugs charge.
The case received massive publicity in 1989, in part due to Donald Trump taking out a full page ad calling for the boys’ execution. New York police and prosecutors have never acknowledged their wrongdoing.