Combating False Confessions in the NJ State and Federal Criminal Courts

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

With the recent release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report on the use of coercive techniques in interrogation, false confessions are again in the news. The experienced criminal defense attorneys of Schwartz & Posnock have successfully defended individuals who falsely confessed to crimes they did not commit.

Research has demonstrated that false confessions are far more common than previously known. Many of the problems related to false confessions arise due to outdated and shoddy questioning by federal and state law enforcement officers.

An Iowa State University psychology professor is leading an international research team developing new interrogation methods designed to reduce false confessions and more effectively gather intelligence critical to national security. This research team’s work is critical to furthering the science of false confessions and may be very useful in litigating false confession evidence in New Jersey criminal cases.

According to the team leader, Professor Christian Meissner, the team’s mission is to leverage research and theory to improve interrogation practices. Civil rights advocates and lawmakers, among others, have criticized law enforcement investigators for using harsh interrogation tactics. Despite the criticism, few have offered solutions or proposed changes to how investigators question suspects – until now.

“This research is having an impact. There’s a real need for evidence-based methods at all levels of law enforcement,” Meissner said. “Our objective is to improve the reliability and the amount of information that investigators can collect from subjects or anyone that they interview.”

The research is funded by the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group or HIG, which includes personnel from the FBI, CIA, and Department of Defense. The HIG was established in 2010 to question terrorism suspects. Now, in the final year of a five-year study, the research team has created an online brochure to share the results of the more than 60 published studies that examine everything from the dynamics of an interrogation, to assessing the truthfulness of a subject, to the impact of culture and language.

The research shows that several of the tried and true methods investigators have used over the years are not always productive or in some cases lead to false confessions. Meissner says many interrogators now recognize that their methods sometimes resulted in false confessions and that change is needed. Researchers have developed new methods that they continue to test in the field, Meissner said, and the information is relevant for law enforcement and intelligence agencies at the federal as well as local level.

“Our aim is to develop methods that are diagnostic, that reduce the likelihood of producing a false confession, but increase the likelihood of eliciting a true statement,” Meissner said. “The methods we’re teaching now focus on letting the subject tell the story, eliciting a narrative and using subtle nudges to encourage the subject to discuss topics they may be uncomfortable talking about, all while developing empathy and rapport with the subject.”

For individuals who are facing prosecution or sentencing in the State or Federal criminal courts of New Jersey, or who are appealing their matters before the New Jersey Appellate Division, the Supreme Court of New Jersey, or the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, it is critical to have an experienced New Jersey State and Federal criminal defense attorney represent you. The experienced criminal defense lawyers of Schwartz & Posnock appear in all State and Federal criminal courts in New Jersey, and have convenient locations in Monmouth County (Eatontown), Essex County (Livingston), Union County (Linden), and Middlesex County (East Brunswick). Call us at 732-544-1460 or email us at info@schwartzposnock.com to schedule an appointment.

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