Confessions in Capital Cases

With multiple Supreme Court rulings in 2002 and Illinois Governor George Ryan’s pardons and commutations in 2003, capital punishment in America is receiving a new wave of increased scrutiny. One aspect of this scrutiny deals with wrongfully convicted death row inmates such as Rolando Cruz and Earl Washington. In many of these cases, part of the evidence upon which the defendants were convicted was a police-induced confession. In this article, Professor White proposes safeguards to en-sure the reliability of confessions introduced in capital cases. Part II re-lates to mentally handicapped suspects. White illustrates the need for change in this area by discussing two “DNA-cleared” cases in which mentally handicapped defendants gave false confessions, and then pro-poses specific recommendations. In part III, White identifies three prob-lematic interrogation practices and proposes safeguards designed to re-strict interrogation practices. Part IV argues for steps to improve methods of fact-finding in cases where the reliability of a capital defend-ant’s police-induced confession is an issue. Finally, part V makes six specific recommendations to legislatures or state courts for safeguards relating to police-induced confessions in capital cases.

The full text of this Article is available to download as a PDF.