December 15, 2011 marks the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights – at least what is left of them. Anthony Gregory’s article at The Huffington Post runs through the list of violations of these precious rights from the Adams administration’s Alien and Sedition acts all the way to the present day violations of the Bush/Obama years via the war on terror. I encourage everyone to read the whole article and reflect on what these rights mean to you on this Bill of Rights Day. If you read nothing else from the article, at least read Gregory’s conclusion:
Clearly, we fall far short from having Bill of Rights that we adhere to and that was designed for our future posterity over 220 years ago. In the end, it is public opinion that most restrains political power — not words on paper, not judges, not politicians’ promises. A population that is not decidedly and passionately against violations of their liberties will see their rights stripped away. If we want to have a Bill of Rights Day worth celebrating, we must demand that officials at all levels respect our freedoms — and not let the government get away with abusing them.
Gregory is right: preserving the Bill of Rights ultimately rests with all of us.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here at The Liberty Papers either by the post authors or views found in the comments section do not necessarily reflect the views of The Innocence Project nor its affiliates.
One more brief note before I get into this post’s topic of false confessions. Just three days ago, Thomas Haynesworth became The Innocence Projects’ 267th exoneree and was released from prison after serving 27 years for three rapes that DNA tests and other evidence prove he did not commit (well, technically he was paroled; The Innocence Project is now trying to have his conviction overturned via the Virginia Court of Appeals or by a pardon from the governor who says he will consider pardoning Haynesworth).
A skilled interrogator knows all sorts of ways to persuade individuals guilty of committing a crime to confess. The problem is, the same interrogator’s methods can often persuade individuals who are innocent to confess as well.
In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.
These cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences.
Why do innocent people confess?
A variety of factors can contribute to a false confession during a police interrogation. Many cases have included a combination of several of these causes. They include:
•ignorance of the law
•fear of violence
•the actual infliction of harm
•the threat of a harsh sentence
•Misunderstanding the situation
The documentary series Frontline episode “The Confessions” (below) profiles a case where eight individuals were charged in large part due to five confessions for a rape and murder of a Norfolk, Virginia woman. Only one of the five confessions turned out to be true and the actual perpetrator admitted he acted alone.
How can false confessions be minimized? One common sense reform The Innocence Project is pushing is simply passing laws which would require all interrogations to be recorded. If the men in the above case had their confessions recorded, the interrogators wouldn’t have the ability to have each rehearse their confessions until it fit with their theory. Every lie and every threat by the interrogators would be replayed for the jury to hear. Only then could the jury have a more complete context of the interrogation.
Additional Thoughts on Recording Interactions with the Police
In response to the above post, Tom Knighton made some very good points in a blog post of his own regarding mandatory recording of interrogations that bear repeating here:
Littau suggests simply recording interrogations as a tool for preventing false confessions as the jury would hear the whole situation and perhaps make up their own minds regarding the so-called confession. I’m going to go so far as to suggest this as a tool for protecting law enforcement officers, as well as suspects. Recorded interrogations can also tell that an officer didn’t coerce a confession, assault a suspect, or anything else they may be accused of.
Transparency is always preferable to non-transparency when it comes to government, even in the law enforcement sector. By recording interviews, an agency opens a window on the process and protects everyone involved.
As the old saying goes, there’s three sides to every story. In the criminal justice system there’s the suspect’s side, the state’s side (or referred sometimes to as “the people’s” side), and the truth. Recording all interactions between the police and the suspect provides something very close to the truth (I say close because even video evidence can be limiting due to a variety of factors).
Really I think that all police interactions should be required by law to be recorded if the person doesn’t have access to a lawyer at that particular moment (and even then, the interaction should be recorded unless the lawyer wishes otherwise). Every police stop, every search warrant, and every raid on a person’s home should be fully* recorded; resulting video should be kept unedited** so both sides can examine the evidence fairly.
Of course, this all assumes that the purpose of our criminal justice system is to get to the truth.
*In the case of police raids, something that Radley Balko advocates (which I agree with fully) is that every SWAT or police officer who takes part in a raid should be required to have a camera mounted on his/her person – preferably helmet mounted. This would present the events how they happened from multiple points-of-view.
**Editing, destroying, or omitting such a video should be considered a crime akin to any other tampering or destruction of evidence.
I don’t know how much play if any this story has received in the national media but it has been a subject of local news and talk shows here in the Denver media market. Basically, an 11 year old boy drew a disturbing picture for his school counselor and later that evening, the boy was hauled off to jail in handcuffs and booked – fingerprints, mug shots, and all as if he were a hardened adult criminal. The video below goes into more detail.
Local Denver talk show host Peter Boyles, as a result of this case and others like this case, has concluded that perhaps it would be prudent for school students of all ages to bring some sort of “Miranda Card” like the one shown below to be presented to school administrators or even (especially) the police. Boyles said that until just a few years ago, he was of the opinion that kids should be taught to trust the police and answer any questions they might have – just as the parents of this young boy did. Now he says that perhaps we should teach our children the exact opposite.
Is this really what it’s coming to now – having to teach our elementary age children the “10 Rules for Dealing with Police” even before they are taught the facts of life?
Maybe so. But there is also another lesson that might be useful for children and hopefully this boy has learned this lesson: don’t be afraid to question authority figures. In the case of this boy, all the authority figures failed him. His counselor failed him by encouraging to draw the picture in the first place without offering any words of caution. The school administrators should have coordinated their approach with the counselor rather than involving the police. The boy’s parents encouraged him to speak openly with the police who then used unnecessary heavy handed tactics that undoubtedly traumatized the child. His trust was betrayed by them all.
Clearly, this is a troubled boy who needs help and was already receiving therapy before government intervention. Why not let those professionals who actually know what they are doing do their jobs?
Now as a parent, I am put in a difficult position. What am I supposed to tell my kids about how to deal with the police? I don’t want them to disrespect the police but at the same time, I don’t want them to grow up having the false notion that the police will always act in their best interests if only they “cooperate.”
In beginning the 112th Congress, House members took turns reading the Constitution aloud to a nearly empty chamber. While I in some ways appreciate members at least uttering the words, I believe that the members would have been better served not by merely reciting the words but by studying the philosophical roots of the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. This two part video does an excellent job explaining the meaning of the Bill of Rights as the document related to the times it was written as well as how it continues to aid us in the difficult times we currently live.
Part 1 deals with the philosophical foundations that came out of the Age of Enlightenment.
Part 2 explains the reasoning behind each of the ten amendments we call the Bill of Rights
As the narrator went through each of the amendments, I couldn’t help but think of the many instances where these very rights have been violated and continue to be violated by federal, state, and local governments throughout the country. For those of you who want to really know what we are about and the larger liberty/small government movement is all about, these are the very principles we are trying to restore. These are our guiding principles.
If ever you are perplexed by a position that we write about be it our opposition to the war on (some) drugs, opposition to conscription, support for sound money, support for the right to bear arms, opposition to ObamaCare, opposition to the so-called Patriot Act, etc. , you might find it helpful to refer back to these first principles.
I would like to encourage others to share these videos because I would like to see these videos go viral to remind our friends on the Left, the Right, and the middle about why these rights are so important and worth fighting for.