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How the Police Generate False Confessions

An Inside Look at the Interrogation Room

James L. Trainum

Despite the rising number of confirmed false confession cases, most people have a hard time grasping why someone would confess to a crime they did not commit, or even why a guilty person would admit to something that could put them in jail for life. How the Police Generate False Confessions takes you inside the interrogation room, exposing the tactics that law enforcement uses to make confessions happen.

James L. Trainum reveals how innocent people can become suspects and then confessed criminals even when they have not committed a crime. Using real stories, he looks at the inherent coerciveness of the interrogation process and why so many false confessions contain so many of the details that only the true perpetrator would know. More disturbingly, the book examines how these same processes corrupt witness and victim statements, create lying informants and cooperators, and induce innocent people to plead guilty. Trainum also offers recommendations for change in the U.S. by looking at how other countries are changing the process to prevent such miscarriages of justice.

The reasons that people falsely confess can be complex and varied; throughout How the Police Generate False Confessions Trainum encourages readers to critically evaluate confessions on their own by gaining a better understanding of the interrogation process.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 308Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-4464-1 • Hardback • July 2016 • $36.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4422-4465-8 • eBook • July 2016 • $34.00 • (£23.95)
James L. Trainum, a private consultant, retired from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. and was the Violent Crimes Case Review Project Director- Detective from 2000-2010. He was the recipient of the Marymount University Forensic Psychology Program Award in Ethics in Law Enforcement in 2005, and recipient of the 2009 Innocence Network’s Champion of Justice Award. Trainum has written several articles on interrogations and the creation of Innocence Commissions, committees designed to review alleged wrongful conviction cases. He has been interviewed on the topic of interrogation and false confessions by The New Yorker, The New York Times, and National Public Radio. Trainum has also been quoted in the American Psychological Associations white paper on the topic of false confessions and in numerous other articles and editorials. He speaks at many conferences and other events to talk about the topic of false confessions and interrogation techniques.
2: Do We Even Have a Problem?
3:Types of Confessions and Statements
4:Taking the First Steps
5:Good Police Work or Coercion?
7:Statement Evaluation
9:Cooperators and Informants
10:Plea Bargaining
11:Is There a Better Way?
13:What Lays in Store for the Future
In this groundbreaking book on the U.S. criminal justice system, Trainum, a former Washington, D.C. police detective, argues for reform of police interviewing and interrogation practices. The confession is considered the gold standard for law enforcement, because 'most people believe that they would never confess to a crime they did not do.' Yet suspects, witnesses, and informants often feel that they have no other option. Trainum carefully demonstrates why in an era of minimum sentences, where the worst-case scenario can be significant jail time, registration as a sex offender, or even the death penalty, prosecutors have breathtaking power to hold a person's life in the balance. The best option for a suspect or witness may be a false confession, informing, or a plea bargain, especially when a long legal fight may drain a family bank account, or when a prosecutor offers a reduced sentence or jailhouse privileges as reward. Without reform, prosecutors, police, and investigators may soon discover that 'harsh and verbally abusive interrogation tactics that focused solely on obtaining confessions... not only [contribute] to false confessions but also to the negative perception of law enforcement by the public.' Using numerous examples and backed by persuasive academic research, Trainum proposes a better way that is already at work in countries with similar criminal justice systems. His book will hit a nerve with a public newly concerned with abuses of police power, and hopefully will influence those tasked with law enforcement and public policy as well.
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

The first step to solving any problem is realizing that it exists. This enlightening work by retired Washington, DC, police detective Trainum leaves no doubt that there are complications with false confessions and police interrogation techniques. Trainum walks readers through the steps police are taught to use in the interrogation room and the coercive methods that can lead to contamination of the interview and false confession. His explanations are well supported with relevant and interesting case studies and previous research. He includes information on problems with statements from witnesses and informants and the role played by plea bargains and mandatory sentences. After presenting a thoroughly convincing portrait of the issue, Trainum provides 'a better way' forward, outlining the PEACE method of interrogation and reviewing other safeguards, including videotaping of interviews. His 27 years of experience provide an insider's realistic, practical view, making this an especially important addition on the topic. VERDICT Essential for those working in the criminal justice system. It will also be of interest to the general public concerned with criminal justice issues and reform, as well as fans of police procedurals and true crime.
Library Journal, Starred Review

[I]f you have an interest in fairness, justice and preventing wrongful convictions, then the new book How the Police Generate False Confessions by former Washington, D.C., homicide detective James Trainum is an important read. It takes you inside the interrogation room to see how investigators extract admissions from innocent people, and how the justice system can fix this persistent problem, seen in high profile cases such as the Central Park Five, the Norfolk Four and the teenaged suspect from Wisconsin in the Netflix series ‘Making a Murderer.’... I [Washington Post reporter Tom Jackman] asked Brandon Garrett, a University of Virginia law professor who has focused on wrongful convictions, about Trainum’s book. ‘It is such an important new book,’ Garrett said. ‘For decades, we have seen false confession after false confession lead to tragic wrongful convictions of the innocent while serious criminals go undetected. The courts have done little to respond to abuses in the interrogation room; if anything they have eroded constitutional protections, such as the right to remain silent. Trainum explains that for police, there is another way. Overly coercive interrogation techniques not only produce false confessions but they are not good at uncovering good information. In the U.K. and in more agencies in the U.S., police have changed gears, turning from psychologically coercive techniques to information gathering techniques. Trainum and his book are at the forefront of a revolution in police interrogations.’ Now that’s a lot better book review quote than mine.
The Washington Post

Who could falsely confess to a crime they didn’t do? In this must read book, Trainum gives us the inside story. He shows how shockingly easy it is for police to secure a false confession, even without intending to do so. That confession, though false, may appear to be highly accurate. Trainum concludes by pointing the way towards less coercive interrogation methods. The result will be a revolution in police questioning.
Brandon L. Garrett, Justice Thurgood Marshall Distinguished Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law

This is not a book about bad cops; it is a book about a very good cop discovering a process for making himself a great cop: beginning by calmly confronting his own mistakes, using research to understand their lessons, and then sharing those lessons with the justice professions. A tremendous contribution.
James Doyle, Attorney, Boston, MA; author of True Witness: Cops, Courts, Science and the Battle Against Misidentification

False confessions are a leading cause of wrongful convictions. Jim Trainum, a retired Washington, DC, homicide detective, explores the nature of this problem in his book, How the Police Generate False Confessions, and discusses how the interview process can be improved and reformed. Investigators, prosecutors, and defense attorneys will all benefit from his experience and insights.
D. Kim Rossmo, Professor, School of Criminal Justice at Texas State University

The curtain is being drawn back on the interrogation room, and America doesn’t necessarily like what it sees. This is being led by those who are willing to discuss what they know about interrogation practices and the unjust outcomes that happen as a result. Jim Trainum is one of those voices, detailing not only issues related to interrogations and false confessions, but the larger investigative culture that can make changing this situation very difficult. The first step to change is admitting you have a problem. Law enforcement has not come around to this realization. In this book, however, the problem becomes clear. Through historical examples and personal experience as a Detective, Jim takes the reader on a journey through the various ways in which a false confession can happen, and does happen. In the end, the reader is left with the realization that what happens in the interrogation room is in large part a reflection of our criminal justice system itself. As a result of this knowledge, we are faced with the choice about whether we want the system to change, or to remain as it is. In making this decision, the reader comes to realize that the next false confession that is given might very well be your own, and that no one is necessarily immune from the forces of persuasion and coercion that exist in the interrogation.
Gary C. David, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology, Department Chair; Associate Professor of Information Design and Corporate Communication, Bentley University

Blending his career as a decorated homicide detective with his uncanny academic insights and understanding Jim has given us a book that addresses the complicated issues inherent in police interview and interrogations with piercing precision and unique insights. This is a must-read for practitioners, academicians and anyone interested in what really happens when cops, suspects, policies and the law converge in a pressure-filled interview room. Not to be missed.
Gregg O. McCrary, FBI, retired

Others have written books about how police generate false confessions. Richard Ofshe, Saul Kassin, Richard Leo (Laura Nirider and I) and many others frequently lecture about the causes and consequences of false confessions. But it is one thing for social scientists, academics, and defense attorneys to write and talk about these things, it is another for a homicide detective to do so. Jim Trainum's book, How the Police Generate False Confessions: An Inside Look at the Interrogation Room, may just turn out to be the most important book on the subject ever written. I learned more about the way police officers investigate homicides and the way tunnel vision and confirmation bias leads to investigative failure from this book than from any other book I have read. The book puts a lie to so many myths about police interrogations that I lost count of them all. But it does so much more. Det. Trainum is not just a critic; he is a reformer, charting a course for the proper way for police officers to investigate cases, interview suspects, witnesses and informants and to obtain reliable information from them. If you buy one book this year in the area of wrongful convictions, this is the book you should buy.
Steven Drizin, Clinical Professor of Law, Northwestern University School of Law; attorney for Brendan Dassey of Making a Murderer