False Confessions And The Norfolk Four Case

3106 words - 12 pages

``In criminal law, confession evidence is a prosecutor’s most potent weapon’’ (Kassin, 1997)—“the ‘queen of proofs’ in the law” (Brooks, 2000). Regardless of when in the legal process they occur, statements of confession often provide the most incriminating form of evidence and have been shown to significantly increase the rate of conviction. Legal scholars even argue that a defendant’s confession may be the sole piece of evidence considered during a trial and often guides jurors’ perception of the case (McCormick, 1972). The admission of a false confession can be the deciding point between a suspect’s freedom and their death sentence. To this end, research and analysis of the false confessions-filled Norfolk Four case reveals the drastic and controversial measures that the prosecuting team will take to provoke a confession, be it true or false.
In order to incriminate Danial Williams, Joseph Dick, Eric Wilson, and Derek Tice with the rape and murder of Michelle Moore-Bosko, Detectives Maureen Evans and Robert Ford conducted long, grueling interrogation sessions using many provocative and manipulative tactics. Throughout this process, Ford and Evans coerced the suspects into renegotiating their perception of the crime until an entirely new reality was created. This new reality evolved as the police elicited additional confessionary evidence to account for each new piece of physical evidence from the crime scene. Eventually, in an iterative process that had police editing their theories of the crime and then forcing the suspects to claim this new reality as their own, the reconciled reality of the crime became one that was consistent with both the criminal evidence and the suspects’ new perception. An analysis of empirical models of false confessions and the proceedings of the Norfolk Four case reveals how the interrogation process, both in its nature and application, coerces suspects into revising their perceptions of actual events, circumstances and motivations. Renegotiation of reality occurs when, by virtue of the institutionalized process of police interrogations, the suspect perceives that his initial reality holds no value to the interrogator or to the outcome of the interrogation, when he lacks agency to defend his reality, and when there is no other option. In this paper, I will illustrate how each of these factors facilitates false confessions and will use the Norfolk Four case as my vehicle for exploration and analysis.
Determining a false confession proves difficult due to the multitude of dimensions involved. According to Kassin and Wrightsman’s (1985) survey of the literature, there are three main types of false confessions—voluntary, coerced-compliant, and coerced-internalized. Unlike coerced false confessions, voluntary false confessions arise as a result of someone willingly turning themselves into the police with an account of their crime (McCann, 1998). Voluntary false confessions can result from multiple motives,...

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