A confession is the best case scenario for law enforcement investigating a crime. It makes the prosecutor's job much simpler, and ensures that the criminal guilty of the crime goes to prison. But what if the confession is false, and the person that confessed is actually innocent?
Dr. Marina Sorochinski gave a lecture on false confessions which included the three types of false confessions, the Reid technique which is often used during interrogations, and the consequences of false confessions on the legal system, the numerous victims, and society. Two speakers, Jeffrey Deskovic and Rodney Roberts, then shared their personal stories of false confessions and imprisonment.
Jeffrey Deskovic earned a masters degree from John Jay in 2013, is a current law student at Pace University Law School, founder of the Deskovic Foundation, and spent sixteen years in prison for a crime that he did not commit yet falsely confessed to.
Deskovic shared his story, explaining the various factors that led to his false confession and subsequent incarceration. Murders were rare in Peekskill, so when a fellow classmate was murdered, the whole city stopped. Deskovic said he was quiet in high school, which apparently made him stick out to classmates as somebody the police should talk to. For about six weeks, the police played games with him, going back and forth from treating him as a suspect to somebody that was crucial in helping them solve this crime. He wanted to be a cop when he was younger, so he was excited about this unexpected and early opportunity to do some quasi-police work.
Police officers drove Deskovic forty minutes away across county lines in order to take a polygraph test, where he was berated by interrogators for roughly seven hours. After being told that if he just complied the interrogation would stop, he would not be arrested, and he could go home, he told the interrogators a story based on the information that they had previously told him and what he had read in the newspapers. He was then arrested, and despite DNA evidence that exonerated him, his case proceeded to trial where he was sentenced and eventually served sixteen years for a crime he did not commit. He then found himself in a "nightmarish reality" because prior to this, he thought that only guilty people were found guilty. After spending ages 17 to 32 in prison, Deskovic was finally exonerated.
After being arrested for assault in New Jersey, Rodney Roberts was in jail when he met with his lawyer, who told him that he was being charged with kidnapping and sexual assault. He tried to explain that he did not do it as he had been in jail. Roberts said, "I'm shocked. First of all, I don't even know how to respond. I think I'm being Punk'd, I'm looking for the camera."
Months later, a new lawyer tells him, "they got you". He told Roberts that a witness was ready to testify and that he was going to get a life sentence, but that he had arranged a plea deal. His lawyer told him that he could go to trial and spend the rest of his life in jail, or plead guilty and serve seven years but be out in two years. Thinking about his son, his family, and his future, he plead guilty to a crime he did not commit.
He served his full seven years because he was continually denied parole due to his refusal to admit his guilt. He was then civilly committed as a sex offender at a Special Treatment Unit for ten years. He said it was "one of the most horrible, horrible experiences of my life". He was assigned a lawyer who found the victim of the kidnapping and sexual assault, and when shown a picture of Roberts she did not recognize him. Eventually all of the police reports were found to have been fabricated, and everything about the case was fabricated in a coercive manner. Additionally, he explained that he grew up in an urban community where "the belief that the police are right and that you are wrong is entrenched in our community", and that plays a factor in arrests, false confessions, and false imprisonment.
Roberts explained how people always say that they would never plead guilty to a crime that they did not commit, and he had thought that as well. But when faced with the possibility of spending the rest of your life in prison for a crime that you did not commit or pleading guilty for a lesser sentence so that you can leave one day and see your loved ones again, you choose the latter.