A documentary about police interview procedures garnered new interest recently. The defendant in the case at the film’s center heard last month that his murder conviction was upheld by an appellate court. The case was not in North Carolina, but the subject of false confessions has loomed large in the state’s Innocence Inquiry Commission cases.
The film, Scenes of a Crime, focuses on a man who confessed to killing his child then recanted at trial. The filmmakers’ position is apparently that the interrogation techniques used with the suspect are designed to get a confession, not to find out the truth.
They were fortunate to find a case that included a recording of the two-day interrogation of the suspect. The suspect had no attorney with him, and police used what defense counsel characterize as “false promises, misrepresentations and threats” to elicit a confession. The court of appeals characterized the officers’ actions as “permissible strategies aimed at eliciting the truth.”
In an interview included in the film, the defendant says he went with the police that day believing he would not be arrested. He claims the officers told him he would not need an attorney.
On the tape, the two officers tell him his baby could be saved if he confessed to causing the injuries. In fact, the doctors had already determined that the boy wouldn’t make it. The cause of death was a source of contention at the trial: Prosecutors said the boy died of brain swelling consistent with head trauma; the doctor appearing for the defense believed the boy died of a blood infection.
We’ll continue this in our next post.
Source: ThomsonReuters News & Insight, “Film puts ‘false confessions’ in the spotlight,” Dan Wiessner, April 13, 2012