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Conference on Interrogations and Confessions

The conference provided a unique forum within which social scientists, legal scholars, and practitioners could be brought together to critically examine the current state of research underlying the psychology of interrogations and confessions, and assess whether policy recommendations might be developed and advocated based upon present research knowledge.

By Christian A. Meissner and G. Daniel Lassiter

The first ever Conference on Interrogations and Confessions was recently held at the University of Texas at El Paso (September 27-29, 2007). The event was supported by a Conferences Grant Award from the American Psychological Association Science Directorate to the co-organizers, G. Daniel Lassiter (Ohio University) and Christian A. Meissner (University of Texas at El Paso). Over 200 academics, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, clinical practitioners, and legislators attended the two-and-a-half day conference, representing over fifteen states in the U.S., as well as Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Japan, and Australia. The conference provided a unique forum within which social scientists, legal scholars, and practitioners could be brought together to critically examine the current state of research underlying the psychology of interrogations and confessions, and assess whether policy recommendations might be developed and advocated based upon present research knowledge. To this end, the organizers identified twenty one of the most prominent researchers and practitioners in the areas of social psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, criminology, personality and individual differences, clinical-forensic psychology, and legal scholarship who had developed well-recognized programs of research on the topics of interrogative interviewing, false confessions, the detection of deception in forensic interviews, individual differences, and clinical-forensic evaluations.

The conference program included both individual research presentations and panel discussions that provided a forum for debating future directions in research and approaches for influencing public policy based upon “best practice” models. The first half of the conference featured research on interrogation tactics and the problem of false confessions in cases of wrongful conviction. Research on the problem of false confessions was highlighted by Gisli Gudjonsson, Saul Kassin, and Richard Leo, while Jeffrey Deskovic provided a personal perspective of the problem as a recent DNA exoneree. Deskovic was exonerated with the assistance of the Innocence Project in 2006 after having spent 16 years in prison. The primary evidence leading to his conviction was a false confession he provided following six hours of interrogation. Joseph Buckley (President of Reid & Associates) provided attendees with a first-hand perspective of the Reid technique – the most popular interrogation approach used by U.S. law enforcement – while Ray Bull provided a contrasting perspective of interrogation reforms that have occurred in Great Britain. Finally, Sol Fulero examined the use of expert testimony on interrogations and confessions. The second half of the conference featured a review of Supreme Court decisions on the issue of Miranda and custodial interrogations by Larry Wrightsman, while Greg DeClue and Bruce Frumkin provided attendees with a clinical-forensic perspective on interrogative suggestibility and comprehension of Miranda. Allison Redlich added to this perspective by discussing the role of false guilty pleas by mentally disordered offenders. Finally, the potential for legislative reforms was discussed by Edwin Colfax and Thomas Sullivan, while Dan Lassiter reviewed his research on the important effects of videotaping police interrogations. The conference concluded with discussions of research on juvenile confessions by Dick Reppucci and Steve Drizin, while Aldert Vrij presented important research on deception detection in interrogative interviews. Panel discussions on the future of research and legislative reforms were led by Melissa Russano, Fadia Narchet, Deborah Davis, and Mark Costanzo.

In the end, conference attendees were impressed by the significance of the research discussed and the consistent quality of the conference talks. This unique event provided an important opportunity for researchers and practitioners to consolidate their knowledge and to prepare for the future of research and policy reform in this area. An edited volume featuring many of the conference presenters will be published by the American Psychological Association in 2008.