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The confession

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Science  14 Jun 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6445, pp. 1022-1026
DOI: 10.1126/science.364.6445.1022

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Summary

It may seem strange that people would confess to a crime they didn't commit. But false confessions are not rare: More than one-quarter of the 365 people exonerated in recent decades by the nonprofit Innocence Project had confessed to their alleged crimes. These days, confessions are being questioned as never before—not just by defense lawyers, but by lawmakers and some police departments, which are reexamining their approach to interrogation. Psychologist Saul Kassin of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City is one of the leading figures in this reexamination. In more than 30 years of research, he has revealed how standard interrogation techniques combine psychological pressures and escape hatches that can easily cause an innocent person to confess. In more recent work, he has shown how a confession, true or not, can exert a powerful pull on witnesses and even forensic examiners, shaping the entire trial.

  • * Douglas Starr is a journalist in Boston.

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