May 16, 2011

'Yeah, I guess she must be dead by now'

People who confess to murder are probably only ahead of those convicted of sex crimes in the contemporary category of "people we hate," "people we don't want to see treated fairly," and "people it's politically impossible to defend even a little bit."

So I was impressed to hear this statement from the author of a non-academic book on crime in American culture, Bill James:

There are, I believe, many more false confessions to murders than true confessions. In fact, if I could, freelance for just a second, I would be in favor of laws strictly limiting what can be described as a confession in a courtroom because what happens in too many cases is the police know how to get somebody to confess to something. They know how to make that happen and they will make that happen, and they get a sort of half confession which the prosecutors then describe relentlessly as a confession. But in reality, it was just something like, 'yeah, I guess she must be dead by now.'

Unfortunately, the NPR interviewer's insistence, "he did confess," and the repeated point, "I mean, um, a lot of people listening to this are wondering but, ahhh, to restate the obvious, he confessed," and James' sad and so tired "yes," is pretty much all the conversation we'll really get on the question of false confessions.