The Psychology of False Confessions - Deepstash

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Reilly's Case

After allegedly failing a polygraph test and being subsequently interrogated, Reilly was persuaded that he had murdered his mother, of which he was innocent, using words like: ‘Maybe I did do it’, ‘I believe I did it’, ‘It really looks like I did it’, and then saying ‘Yes’ when asked directly, ‘You did it?’. Reilly then signed his written confession statement (Connery, 1977, pp. 65–67; Gudjonsson, 2003a).


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Test And Interrogation

What is apparent is that Reilly had become confused by the result of the ‘failed’ polygraph test and intensive interrogation, believing that he might have murdered his mother, but he always remained unsure (i.e. he was never completely confident that he had murdered his mother; in fact, he harboured serious doubts about it).

Whatever the appalling deficiencies of Peter’s interrogation, it was at least recorded on tape. Indeed, it might be said that one of the factors leading to Peter Reilly’s eventual vindication was the audiotape made during his ruthless grilling;


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Guildford Four

it clearly revealed the browbeating methods of coercion used upon an exhausted boy, and helped many people make up their minds about the police and their subtle brutality.

In the 1980s the main obstacle to preventing and correcting miscarriages of justice involving confession evidence was that people found it hard to believe that anyone would confess to a serious crime of which they were innocent (Gudjonsson, 2003a). That misguided attitude changed considerably after the acquittal of the ‘Guildford Four’ in October 1989 (Ewing & McCann, 2006; Gudjonsson & MacKeith, 2003),


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Guildford Four

a case that opened the gate to other miscarriage of justice cases involving disputed confessions in the UK (Gudjonsson, 2010a). The case represented a long and hard battle (Kee, 1989; McKee & Franey, 1988), but justice prevailed in the end (Victory, 2001). Persistence does pay.


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Need Of Improvement

A part of the early battle was to change negative attitudes and misconceptions by educating police officers, lawyers, and judges about the growing evidence base of false confessions and the need for improved police interview training and practice (Gudjonsson, 1992a, 2003a). The science of the psychology of false confession emerged in the 1980s and 1990s and has continued to develop over time. It has paid dividends in the form of changing the legal landscape in the UK and Norway, but other countries have been slower to respond (Walsh, Oxburgh, Redlich, & Myklebust, 2016).


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False Confessions

A solid theoretical foundation, supported by empirical evidence and case studies, helps us understand the underlying causes of false confessions and how they may be identified, researched, and prevented.


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