The video that came too late for the Norfolk 4

A couple of things about me: One, I am interested in crime. I’ve read a lot of “true crime” books, watched a lot of crime documentaries and am currently working my way through all 100+ episodes of The First 48, a reality show about murder investigations. Two, being accused of something I didn’t do, no matter how minor, has always scared the shit out of me.

So when I saw the videos below via a post on Boing Boing a couple of years ago, they got my attention. (They were originally posted as two videos, but were reposted to YouTube as one long piece.)

In the first part, a Regent University law professor and former defense attorney named James Duane explains why no one should ever answer questions in a police criminal interrogation without consulting an attorney, even if they know they are 100% innocent. In the second part, a police officer bolsters Duane’s argument, and details some of the disingenuous ways he uses to get suspects to confess.

Neither man accuses the police of ill intent, because cops don’t need to be evil to screw up and charge the wrong person. But what about when the cops and/or the prosecution do seem to be motivated by something less than a genuine zeal for the truth?

View The Confessions, a PBS/Frontline documentary and see what can happen then. We watched it a few days ago and it is still giving me the chills.

The film details how four innocent men confessed to a rape/murder they did not commit. They were all given lie detector tests. At least one of them passed that test, while the results of the others’ tests have never been released. Even more amazingly, none of them were a match for the DNA sample collected at the crime scene.

But to the police and prosecution, that didn’t exonerate them. By their twisted logic, it simply meant there were other unknown perpetrators. One by one, they would locate a suspect, extract a confession, and when the DNA failed to match, they’d widen their net to ensnare more innocent men. It’s an unbelievable story, though, thankfully, it didn’t end with an execution, unlike Cameron Todd Willingham’s case, also documented in another excellent recent Frontline documentary.
Watch a few episodes of The First 48 and you’ll see—the vast majority of cases on that show are solved with confessions that the suspects are under no obligation to make. 

Here is the Regent University video. It’s long, but it’s worth it. It’s followed by a short clip from The Wire where Bodie shows how simply all of this can be avoided.