Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Manipulating the innocent through video

"You might as well confess. We have you on video."
"Okay, okay. I did it. Can I go home now?"

Maybe that's not exactly how it goes, but a new study indicates that people who did nothing wrong are more likely to confess if they are told they were caught on video. In the study, a group of subjects were asked to complete a task. They played a game in which they were asked a series of questions. For every question they answered correctly, they were told to withdraw money from a bank account. For every question they answer incorrectly, they were told to deposit money in that account.

After completing the task, each test subject met with a researcher. The researcher debriefed the test subject and then told him or her that there was evidence the test subject stole money from the bank. Some test subjects were told there was a video showing their dishonesty while others were shown a doctored video showing the thefts.

The test subjects were asked to sign a confession - and 87% of the test subjects signed it when asked the first time. The remaining 13% signed it on the second request.

It is very disturbing that researchers were able to obtain confessions from innocent persons by merely telling them that there was a video. It is even more disturbing that innocent persons were convinced to confess their "guilt" after seeing a doctored video. These folks knew they had done nothing wrong but confessed anyway.

Regardless of the mechanisms involved in creating our see-video versus told-video effect, the results show that doctored videos, or simply the proposition that video evidence exists, are potent forms of suggestion that can contribute to false confessions and foster false beliefs. According to these results, our advice to those who receive digital footage of themselves is: be warned, digital images from untrustworthy sources are like a box of chocolates; never know what you are going to get. -- Robert Nash and Kimberly Wade

Those of us who practice criminal law already know that a person who can't post a bond is more likely to confess to a crime than a person who bonded out. The lure of "time served" is very powerful for those folks in the holdover.

Factor in the threat of video evidence and that poor schmuck doesn't stand a chance.

* A special thanks to Dennis C. Elias, Ph.D. and Zagnoli McEvoy Foley, LLC for the tweets.


Anonymous said...

Cops do the same thing to anyone dumb enough to agree to a police administered polygraph. It's OK - they're "fighting crime."

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Amen, brother.

GalvestonLawyer said...

I have had this come up in a lot of cases. It never ceases to amaze me why people confess to crimes they did not commit.

Anonymous said...

Also interesting that in the alleged Hofstra gang rape, the "victim" apparently only recanted her story after being told there may be a video of the incident.

I like how nobody in the media is even willing to report her name, but we know the names of four innocent guys who nailed her in a Hofstra University dorm's bathroom.