A study of false confession cases revealed that the average admission of guilt came after 16 goddamned hours of interrogation. Take the average American workday, double it, and imagine sitting in a stark room for that amount of time while our (former) friend Detective Steelgirth relentlessly hammers his insistence that you're a criminal into your cranium. Even fucking Professor X couldn't withstand that level of mental pressure.
And 16 hours is just the average. Take Stefan Kiszko, England's wrongful conviction poster boy: He was interrogated for two days straight after being accused of the sexual assault and murder of an 11-year-old girl. This was a man with the mental capacity of a 12-year-old, yet he still had the wherewithal to maintain his innocence for two entire days. When Kiszko finally did confess, it was only because police officers told him that was the only way he'd get to go home.
Perhaps Kiszko placed a naive faith in things like "evidence" and "a jury of his peers." If so, he was correct on the first count: The main piece of evidence from the crime scene was sperm, which Kiszko was incapable of producing due to some faulty plumbing. But he was wrong about it mattering one iota: Having confessed to the crime, he was convicted and sent to prison, where he endured 16 agonizing years of brutal beatings by fellow inmates before ultimately being exonerated and ... promptly dying of a heart attack.
Oh, were you expecting a happy ending to this story? Sorry about that. Happy endings are for Stallones, not Schneiders.
You Will Be Persuaded To Plead Guilty
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Let's say you manage to emerge from your interrogation panic-induced-false-confession-free. If you're among the lucky percentile of people who can afford a defense lawyer, good for you! You'll likely see your day in court. For everyone else, you'll be assigned a public defender who isn't given enough time to prepare a case and knows significantly less about your case than the prosecution. These attorneys often don't even think they can win, so they may not even try. Instead, they'll do their damnedest to convince you to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence -- and 97 percent of people do.
Here's how it plays out in real life: At 17 years old, Brian Banks was accused of rape. The evidence was on his side, but his defense attorney sat him down and flat-out told him that a jury would convict him on the grounds of being "a large black teenager" alone.
"Just a reminder: The faster you say the G-word, the faster we go to lunch."
She gave him 10 minutes to choose between A) entering a guilty plea and receiving six years in prison, or B) being black in a courtroom and receiving 41. Guess which option he chose. Go on, guess.
False confessions resulting from shitty interrogation techniques are but a surface symptom of a deeper infection within the criminal justice system. And just because a confession comes in the form of a trade-off for a lighter sentence, don't think that makes you any less guilty in the eyes of the world -- studies have shown that jurors weigh a confession more heftily than any other type of evidence. If you say you're a murderer, your fellow man will gladly take your word for it. It turns out we're quite trusting in that regard.
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