North Carolina’s Innocence Inquiry Commission was created to address inmates’ claims that they had been wrongfully convicted. While the commission’s process — if not its very existence — has come under fire, the media has highlighted stories of men who say they were tricked into confessing to crimes they did not commit. Faced with serious criminal charges, these young men say the police confused them or misconstrued their words or even lied to them during interrogations.
A 2011 documentary, Scenes of a Crime, focuses on a similar story. As we discussed in our last post, the filmmakers use footage from a defendant’s nine-hour interview with police. The questioning is characterized as an interview rather than an interrogation because the officers had not read him his rights, and they said he was free to leave. The defendant confessed but recanted at trial. He maintains he is innocent.
The film questions the legality of police interviewing methods. The objective, they say, is to get a confession from a suspect. They are not interested in the truth.
Before he finally confessed, the officers told the defendant that they would arrest his wife if he didn’t own up to the crime. In an interview included in the documentary, one of the officers tells the filmmakers, “When we’re speaking to you, we’re of course lying.” The film also includes part of the interview that follows the “good cop/bad cop” model.
The filmmakers point the finger at the Reid interrogation technique. The method is used across the country, and its purpose is not to accuse a suspect outright but, instead, to talk to the suspect about justifications for the crime. Eventually, the theory goes, the suspect will identify with one of the scenarios — “kids crying all day, feeling the heat about losing that job” — and confess.
Again, though, the objective is the confession, not the truth. Two courts have upheld the guilty verdict in this case, but the filmmakers hope that people will question the system, if not the outcome, after hearing the defendant’s story.
Source: ThomsonReuters News & Insight, “Film puts ‘false confessions’ in the spotlight,” Dan Wiessner, April 13, 2012