False Confessions

Joe’s suggestions for a page about false confessions: “I have always been of the mind that for the general public/lay person, there needed to be some easily understood information about false confessions available. Most people do not understand false confessions or how/why they can occur. When they hear that someone confessed they simply assume/presume the person is guilty, and do not think beyond that point. Most also are not aware of just how prevalent the problem of false confessions is. It happens far more than people realize. So yes, I do think that we should have a section that highlights the issue of false confessions and moreover addresses my “confessions” specifically.” (January 2014)

The Consequences of False Confessions: Deprivations of Liberty and Miscarriages of Justice in the Age of Psychological Interrogation by Richard A. Leo and Richard J. Ofshe (1998) “In 1979, Norfolk, Virginia police extracted five contradictory confessions from Joseph Giarratano to the rape and murder of fifteen-year-old Michelle Kline and her forty-four-year-old mother, Toni Kline. Sperm, hair samples, and bloody shoe- prints found at the crime scene did not link Giarratano to the crime. In addition, Giarratano’s confessions were demonstrably inaccurate on significant points:

  • One of the victims died from a severed artery and bled profusely, but police found no blood on Giarratano’s clothing;
  • the victims were strangled and stabbed by someone who is right-handed, but Giarratano is left- handed and has only limited use of his right hand due to neurological damage from childhood;
  • Giarratano confessed to strangling one of his victims with his hands, but an independent pathologist testified that the hallmarks of manual strangulation were not present;
  • Giarratano stated that he threw the knife he used into the Kline’s backyard, but no weapon was ever found.

Regardless, Giarratano was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die. On death row for more than a decade, Giarratano has twice come within forty-eight hours of being executed. Granted conditional clemency in 1991, Giarratano is currently serving a life term.”

CRIMINAL LAW BULLETIN Volume 37, Number 4 The Truth About False Confessions and Advocacy Scholarship Richard A. Leo and Richard J. Ofshe (2001) “There are at least seven inconsistencies between Giarratano’s statements and the physical and crime scene evidence supporting the conclusion that Giarratano’s confession statements were false.” (page 332 or 39)
False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Implications (J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 37:332–43, 2009) by Richard A. Leo, PhD, JD Police-Induced Confessions: Risk Factors and Recommendations (Law Hum Behav (2010) 34:3–38 DOI 10.1007/s10979-009-9188-6) by Saul M. Kassin, Steven A. Drizin, Thomas Grisso, Gisli H. Gudjonsson, Richard A. Leo Æ Allison D. Redlich