Innocent defendants do make incriminating statements, outright confess, or even plead guilty.  Experts who study this phenomenon have determined that confessions are not always prompted by knowledge of a crime or even guilt, but rather are motivated by other influences, including fear, suggestion, depression, incompetency, etc.  These experts often present their data on the causes of false confessions in trials where a defendant claims innocence, but has confessed.  In Pennsylvania, that isn’t allowed.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled against using false confession experts in a 4-2 decision.

Justice Thomas Saylor joined by Justice Debra McCloskey Todd, dissented stating that expert testimony on false confessions should be decided on a case-by-case basis by trial judges.

They criticized the “blanket exclusion” of research “based upon unanalyzed assumptions about juror capabilities, even as these assumptions are challenged by…wrongful convictions and developing behavioral science.”

The decision reversed an appeals court ruling that allowed Richard Leo, a nationally recognized false confession expert, to testify in the trial of Jose Alicea about the general reasons why someone would falsely confess.  The Olney, Pennsylvania man is accused of a 2005 shooting at a restaurant.  The Supreme Court ruling paves the way for Alicea’s trial to take place without the expert testimony.

His attorneys are arguing that his low I.Q. prompted his false confession and that it was crucial for jurors to understand why he would confess to something he didn’t do.  He was 19 years old at the time he was brought into the station at 2 a.m. for questioning.  After several hours, he implicated himself.  His confession is the only evidence against him.

Lawrence Krasner, Alicea’s lawyer, said the court’s ruling has “stak[ed] out an unscientific position that will continue to convict innocent people, encourage improper interrogations…and cost citizens a fortune in lost lives and…dollars.”


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