#28: The Truth About False Confessions


DNA exonerations have proven that some people confess to serious crimes they didn’t commit, even without physical abuse or mental illness. Why would anyone do this? Do police cause this, intentionally or not, because of the questioning techniques they use? And what can we do to make sure this doesn’t occur? 

Richard Leo is one of the world’s experts on police interrogation and false confessions. He’s done trailblazing work on confessions and how police tactics produce them for decades, building a substantial body of work. 

His book Police Interrogation and American Justice (2008) won multiple awards; The Wrong Guys: Murder, False Confessions, and the Norfolk Four (2008), written for a general audience with journalist Tom Wells, is one of the most compelling stories you’ll ever come across on the incredible power of false confessions. View a sampling of his substantial body of academic work here.

PBS Frontline produced a documentary on the Norfolk Four case called “The Confessions” in 2010.

“(Reid & Associates) have this belief, which is completely contradicted by the science — it’s really a delusion — that they can train investigators to tell whether you’re lying or whether you’re telling the truth based on your body language... The process is designed for people who are believed to be guilty. There’s no out for people who are innocent.”