For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2 - 8

Even the use of themes to suggest an " acceptable "
reason for having committed the crime can lead to
contamination. One theme for a burglary case that
is recommended by Reid and Associates is telling the
subject that he was tempted because the victim was
on vacation, providing the subject with what should be
considered hold-back information.9
Sometimes the contamination is not so subtle. Though
the tactic is largely out of favor, some investigators
will still show crime scene photos to suspects. Others
will simply confront the subject, telling them exactly
what they " know " the suspect did. The use of such
tactics may be attributed to the belief, still held by
many investigators, that an innocent person would
never confess to a crime they did not commit; thus,
contamination is not really an issue.
Though contamination can lead to the creation
of a detail-filled false confession, it can also render
a truthful confession unreliable. It would be like if
a person was the victim of a robbery by a stranger
during which they had a great opportunity to observe
them. The robber was arrested nearby, and the victim
was asked to come down to view a live line-up. While
waiting outside the line-up room, the victim was
watching the news on television when the broadcaster
announced an arrest for the robbery and showed the
detectives doing a " perp walk " of the suspect. At this
point, there is no way of knowing if any identification
would be the result of the victim's memory of the event
or the contamination from seeing the news broadcast.
The same can be said of any confession where the level
of contamination is high.
Lack of Corroboration
The final thing investigators fail to do is test the
reliability of a confession through corroboration.
The need for corroboration is one of the most basic
investigative concepts. We look for corroboration in
the statements of witnesses and victims, but too often
we overlook it when it comes to confessions. This is
because the investigator (and prosecutor) believe
that the subject saying " I did it " is corroboration
enough. Also, once a confession is obtained, the case is
considered closed, and the investigator is encouraged
to move on to other cases.
The first step to corroborating a confession is
understanding the crime scene. A good crime scene
analysis can establish the " hard " facts, which are the
facts that can be proven through the physical evidence.
These are then used to test the reliability of not only
statements or confessions, but also of the investigator's
theory of the case. When the statements, confession,
or theory do not fit the crime scene analysis, they must
8 For The Defense l Vol. 6, Issue 2
be reevaluated.10
A Washington, D.C. case I reviewed hinged on the
testimony of an eyewitness. The witness claimed that
she watched from her bedroom window as two men
chased a pickup truck on foot down the street, firing
their guns at the driver. When the truck crashed into
a parked car, one of the men ran up to the driver's
side and fired multiple shots at the victim. There were
multiple problems with her statement: (1) there were
no bullet holes in the driver's side of the truck; (2) a
single bullet struck the back window of the truck,
hitting the driver in the back of his head and killing
him; and (3) the only shell casings found were located
down the street, out of sight of the witness. Despite all
of this, the detectives and the prosecutor believed that
the witness was reliable.
Dependent corroboration occurs when the confession
contains details believed by the investigator to be
true at the time of the interrogation. A detail can be
independently corroborated when it can be shown
that it first came from the subject and not through
contamination. This is why the video or audio recording
of the interrogation in its entirety is so important.
However, even if it is not, one can sometimes detect
clues of contamination in the final confession.
One such clue is what is known as the " false fed
fact. " This is a fact that the investigator " fed " to the
suspect, believed to be true at the time they obtain
the confession, but later, it turned out to be false. The
presence of a " false fed fact " in a confession is a huge
red flag as to contamination and the suggestibility of
the subject.
Independent corroboration occurs when the
confession contains details that were previously
unknown to the investigator, which investigators
can later corroborate. Physical evidence is the best
form of independent corroboration. Independent
corroboration through witnesses, especially the reinterview
of witnesses post-confession, must be taken
with a grain of salt. There is a possibility that the
investigator contaminated the witness through poor
interviewing skills, a phenomenon known as postconfession
contamination.
A " down and dirty " way to evaluate a confession is to
approach it as if it is true. The question then becomes:
Based on the details, what would one expect to find at
the crime scene? If the two are out of sync, that is a red
flag that the confession may be false.
Not only do false confessions contain accurate details
about the crime, but they also often include a lot of
nonsense as well. Because of confirmation bias, the

For the Defense - Vol. 6, Issue 2

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