Confessions Corrupt Eyewitnesses
People confess to crimes they don’t commit. They do it a lot. What’s interesting about this research is that confessions—whether false or true—corrupt other eyewitnesses:
A confession is potent evidence, persuasive to judges and juries. Is it possible that a confession can also affect other evidence? The present study tested the hypothesis that a confession will alter eyewitnesses’ identification decisions. Two days after witnessing a staged theft and making an identification decision from a lineup that did not include the thief, participants were told that certain lineup members had confessed or denied guilt during a subsequent interrogation. Among those participants who had made a selection but were told that another lineup member confessed, 61% changed their identifications. Among those participants who had not made an identification, 50% went on to select the confessor when his identity was known. These findings challenge the presumption in law that different forms of evidence are independent and suggest an important overlooked mechanism by which innocent confessors are wrongfully convicted: Potentially exculpatory evidence is corrupted by a confession itself.
When asked to explain their change, subjects revealed they were actually convinced by the confessor, and not simply complying with it, saying, “His face now looks more familiar than the one I chose before.”