[News] Police torture results in false convictions

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Thu Jun 17 11:36:49 EDT 2004


From:    "Pan-African News Wire" <ac6123 at wayne.edu>


Untrue Confessions

June 15th, 2004 12:30 PM
By James Ridgeway

Additional reporting: Diana Ferrero, Alexander Provan,
Oorlagh George, and Alicia Ng

During last week's Judiciary Committee hearing at which
Attorney General John Ashcroft was grilled about the issue of
torture, New York's Chuck Schumer cautioned, "We ought to be
reasonable about this. I think there are very few people in
this room or in America who would say that torture should
never, ever be used, particularly if thousands of lives are
at stake."

But in criminal cases, as the recent spate of overturned
death row convictions has shown, confessions coerced by
physical or psychological brutality often turn out to be
wrongful confessions.

Northwestern law professor Steven A. Drizin and University of
California-Irvine criminology professor Richard A. Leo say
that, according to studies, faulty confessions were
the "primary cause of wrongful conviction in 14 to 25 percent
of the documented cases." In addition, confession sometimes
sets in motion an irreversible presumption of guilt. "The
problem with military and police interrogators is that they
believe they can tell whether a suspect or prisoner is guilty
or innocent by observing his or her behavior," Saul Kassin, a
psychology professor at Williams College, tells the
Voice. "Once they make that judgment, they interrogate with
the presumption of guilt, and this allows them to believe
that what the suspects say is the truth."

In the 1989 Central Park jogger case, the five young men
arrested and found guilty and later cleared claimed they were
coerced into making confessions by the police, who they said
hit them, called them liars, and told them they'd be freed
only after confessing. Brute force isn't the only tactic, of
course. In 1985, Eddie Joe Lloyd, a mentally ill man in
Detroit, confessed to the rape and murder of a 16-year-old
girl. Police interviewed him several times in a hospital,
while he was heavily medicated, and fed him evidence he could
not possibly have known. Post-conviction DNA testing led to
Lloyd's being set free.

In a 9-11 related case, Abdullah Higazy, an Egyptian student
studying in New York, was coerced by the FBI into admitting
that he owned a pilot's radio found in his hotel room across
from the WTC. Higazy was cleared only after the radio was
actually claimed by an American commercial airline pilot.

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