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5 Staples of the Legal System That Statistics Say Don't Work

#2. Lie Detection Training Trains Police to Be Worse at Detecting Lies

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In nearly every procedural show, there's at least one moment where the rough and tumble cop watches a suspect squirm under the hot lights of an interrogation and just knows he's lying. It makes sense that cops would be good at sniffing out dishonesty. After years of listening to liars, they can read it on someone's face, like Tim Roth in that show that got canceled.

If solving crimes is all about finding out the truth, what could be better than a cop who can spot a lie at a glance?

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Maybe a cop who is also a father spotting his daughter's boyfriend lying at a glance.

Well, Actually ...

Nobody can do that. They just think they can.

See, police officers have to go through rigorous training to make sure they pick up on the common tells people exhibit when they lie, but all of that training is actually worse for them than no training at all. The problem is that the training focuses on signs of nervousness, like twitching and discomfort, when twitching and discomfort are also known side effects of an innocent person sitting in an interrogation room. So as you can imagine, there are a lot of false positives. There are also countless other factors that determine how much someone squirms -- like their cultural background, what kind of lie they're telling, and whether the suspect is generally a noddy, hand-and-feet-movey kind of person (how many of you reading this are fidgeting at a desk right now, tapping your foot or bouncing your knee?)

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Seriously, calm down there, Johnny Ritalin.

A grizzled old police officer might say, "Yeah, that training is BS! I can spot a lie thanks to my 20 years on the streets."

Nope, sorry. They did a study on officers who'd been on the force for anywhere between three and 26 years and found that, incredibly, the longer someone's been an officer, the worse he or she is at telling when someone's lying.

It comes down to overconfidence. The long-time officers believed they could sniff out lies over 70 percent of the time when in fact their success rate was just south of 50 percent, much worse than the cops who had only been on the force for three or four years. In fact, in another study, they pitted police investigators against regular college students and had them each try to sniff out lies from inmates. The college kids did better.

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"Suck it, cops! Suck our daughter's lie-smelling dick!"

That's because the only real way to tell if someone is lying is if their story doesn't add up. That's why believing that they can read a liar's face makes things worse -- instead of thinking about the questions they ask and the answers they get, officers focus on every single tiny movement their suspect makes, which ultimately is useless information. So if a police officer asks you a question and follows it up with "And don't lie to me because I'll be able to tell," there's a good chance you can tell him anything you like, as long as you don't twitch when you do it.

#1. Many Judges Are Terrifyingly Unqualified

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In any crime drama, there may be corrupt cops and sleazy lawyers and disinterested jurors, but at the top of the system you find the judges who rule over their courtroom like gods. These people, above all, know their shit.

Well, Actually ...

If you're talking about the Supreme Court or a federal appeals court, no doubt you're standing before some of the finest legal minds in the country. But those guys are but a tiny fraction of the judges that make the system run. The country is full of little district courts, and the bar is, uh, not quite so high there. In fact, often all it takes to don the black robe is passing a simple test of 50 true/false questions, including this thinker: "Town and village justices must maintain dignity, order, and decorum in their courtrooms -- true or false?"

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"Wait, does beheading live chickens count as dignified? Because if so, true."

That question is from a district judge exam in New York state, and perhaps unsurprisingly, no one has failed it since 1999. In fact, it's more surprising that someone actually did fail it, because you only need 70 percent correct to pass, and you can retake it as many times as you like. And these small town courts aren't just relegated to the rural areas of New York -- they are everywhere. The scariest part is that three-quarters of the judges appointed to these courts have no legal training whatsoever, and some of them never even finished high school.

But surely these judges only deal with cases involving crop tampering and cattle disputes -- there's no way the government would let them hand down prison sentences, right? Wrong! They handle around 300,000 criminal cases a year, plus millions of minor offenses like misdemeanors and traffic violations, and dole out a heap of jail time. Who's watching over them to make sure they're following procedure? Probably nobody! There is almost no oversight -- in New York state, for instance, the branch responsible for keeping tabs on 1,250 district judges is staffed by only 29 people. See, suddenly all of those "crazy judge hands out wacky sentence" news stories make sense.

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"I have no idea, man. I just littered."

Only sometimes it's not so funny. Take the case of Stanley Yusko, a judge in the Catskills who frequently and illegally imprisoned people for months before trial. Or Elaine Rider, who got so confused when a lawyer argued that evidence had been seized illegally that she asked the prosecutor to decide the case for her. Or John Cox, the quarry worker turned judge who had a habit of jailing anyone unable to pay a fine (he only got away with this for 22 years before someone told him to stop, at which point he claimed that it was the first time anyone had told him not to). Want us to keep going? OK, how about Donald Roberts, the former state trooper turned judge who denied a woman a protection order against her husband on the basis that "every woman needs a good pounding now and then."

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This is the closest thing to a photo of him that we could find. The piece of shit was finally ejected from office.

Again, we don't want to overstate the problem. We're just saying that when the Scarecrow wantonly sentenced people to death by way of the frozen rivers of Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises, even he was better suited to be a judge than most of these folks.



For more things that just aren't working well, check out The 5 Most Popular Safety Laws (That Don't Work) and 5 Common Crime Fighting Tactics (Statistics Say Don't Work.

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