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Document Type

Notes

Abstract

People are generally skeptical that someone would falsely confess to a crime he or she did not commit. Nonetheless, a myriad of convicts exonerated by DNA and the rapidly emerging scientific literature on the subject calls into question this long-standing belief. Scholars in the field now recognize that personal and situational risk factors, including promises of leniency, heighten the risk of a false confession. Promises of leniency have been shown to be particularly coercive in interrogations and to produce unusually persuasive testimony in the courtroom. Due to a failure to recognize the power behind these promises, our justice system does not adequately safeguard criminal defendants who give promise-induced confessions. As such, federal appellate courts are in disarray over when a promise of leniency renders a confession inadmissible at trial. On the other hand, the power behind promises in the plea-bargaining context is better recognized by scholars and laypeople alike and our justice system consequently provides much greater safeguards to criminal defendants who plead guilty in response to a promise. This Note argues that jury instructions that help the jury better detect, understand, and weigh confession testimony can close the unwarranted gap between procedural safeguards governing promise-induced admissions of guilt during plea discussions and interrogations. This Note also proposes a model instruction, which conveys the relevant scientific and legal principles in a way that will impact jurors’ verdicts in false confession cases.

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