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Brooklyn Law School CLE seminar examines false confessions, explores a better way

October 2, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Law School hosted a CLE seminar on false confessions with (from left) moderator Glenn Garber of the Exoneration Initiative, Inspector Todd Barron, Memorial University of Newfoundland Professor Brent Snook and John Jay College Professor Saul Kassin. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
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Brooklyn Law School brought in a pair of psychology professors and a member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary for a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) ethics roundtable on police interrogations in Downtown Brooklyn on Thursday.

“This program is part of a series that the center has been sponsoring that brings the worlds of legal ethics, psychology and linguistics together,” said Prof. Lawrence Solan. “The working title of the series is, ‘Can the Legal System Do Justice Even When it Tries?’ Tonight is obviously the capstone of this project.”

This part of the series was titled “Getting a Confession Versus Getting at the Truth: An Ethical Alternative to Deceptive Police Interrogation Tactics.” It was moderated by Glenn Garber, founder and director of the Exoneration Initiative, and the panelists included psychology professors Saul Kassin from John Jay College and Brent Snook from Memorial University of Newfoundland. They were joined by inspector Todd Barron of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary.

During the two-hour roundtable, Kassin described the current models used for interrogation in the U.S., focusing on one called the Reid Technique, and explained why they’re outdated.

“U.S. interrogations cause innocent people to confess,” Kassin said. “Not everybody who gives a false confession does it because of the process of police interrogation, but most do. It’s a pervasive problem and far more so than anyone ever anticipated.”

“Everything is wrong with the Reid Technique,” Kassin added.

Kassin claimed that false confessions are responsible for more than 25 percent of the 330 post-conviction DNA exonerations handled by the Innocence Project. He warned that many people are susceptible to false confessions and noted the famous case of Marty Tankleff, a Long Island man falsely convicted of killing his parents, to point out that being innocent can actually work against a suspect during an interrogation.

“Innocent people tend to have a belief that justice will prevail, so they think that if they just say what investigators want to hear, then they can get out and they’ll prove their innocence later,” Kassin said.

After pointing out why the current techniques are faulty, Snook and Barron went on to explain a better model, specifically the PEACE model (Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluation and Feedback). The main difference, they explained, was that the Reid Technique starts with the presumption of guilt and PEACE is more about fact finding and evidence based on empirical techniques.

“In this model there is no coercion, there are no monologues, there is no deception [or] detection; there is nothing other than pulling out information in the most reliable and accurate way as possible,” Snook said.

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