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State v. Free

May 24, 2002


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County, 98-06-0397-I.

Before Judges Havey, Braithwaite and Coburn.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Coburn, J.A.D.


Argued May 13, 2002

This appeal from a pretrial ruling in favor of defendant concerns the admissibility before a jury in a murder case of opinion testimony from a social psychologist, offered by defendant as an expert in police interrogation and false confessions, on the subject of the credibility of defendant's confessions. We reverse.


The issue arose after a N.J.R.E. 104 hearing, resulting from defendant's motion to suppress his confessions as involuntary, Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368, 84 S. Ct. 1774, 12 L. Ed. 2d 908 (1964), and as having been obtained in violation of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966). The judge rejected the motion, ruling in favor of the State on both issues. Defendant then served the State with a report from the social psychologist, Dr. Saul M. Kassin, which contained his proposed trial testimony bearing on the circumstances of the interrogation and the credibility of defendant's statements.

The report read as follows:

February 27, 2001


State v. Patrick Free Analysis of the Defendant's Statement

Saul M. Kassin, Ph.D. Professor of Psychology

I. Materials Reviewed Defendant's school records and reports Defendant's account of his interrogation and confession

Report by psychologist Dr. Robert Gordan Catherine Suopys interview by Det. McGovern & Agent Morgan

Eric Blair interview by Dets. D'Ascentis & Maahs

Jason Abel interview by Dets. D'Ascentis & Scalici

Det. Leitenberger's polygraph exam questions and charts

Tapes and/or transcripts of Defendant's three 1/9/98 statements

Transcript of Jason Abel's 1/9/98 statement Various police reports on the Suopys investigation

Pretrial Miranda Hearing testimony, 7/10-7/13/00, 8/1/00.

Interview training materials written and compiled by Det. Ryan

II. General Background

Confession evidence is generally assumed to be reliable. Over the years, however, numerous cases have been documented involving people who were erroneously convicted and imprisoned on the basis of persuasive confessions to crimes they did not commit. Recent DNA exoneration cases in the United States have confirmed that the elicitation of false confessions continues unabated. Among the first sixty-two prisoners exonerated by DNA evidence, fifteen had given full or partial false confessions.

It is not possible to discern the statistical prevalence of this problem. It is clear, however, that modern police interrogation techniques are psychologically powerful, that false confessions occur with some regularity, and that there are three distinct types of false confessions: voluntary, coerced-compliant, and coerced- internalized.

A voluntary false confession is a self- incriminating statement that is made without external pressure from police. Sometimes the goal is to protect a friend or relative. Other motives include pathological needs for attention, acceptance, recognition, or self -punishment. A coerced-compliant false confession occurs when a suspect confesses in order to escape an aversive situation, to avoid a threatened or implied harm, or to gain a promised or implied reward. This confession is thus an act of compliance by a person who has come to believe that the short-term benefits of confessing outweigh the long-term costs. A coerced-internalized false confession is one in which an innocent person who is anxious, tired, confused, and subject to certain suggestive methods of interrogation, actually comes to believe that he or she may have committed the crime. In this type of false confession, the suspect's memory of his own actions may be altered, a phenomenon closely related to studies involving the implantation of false "memories."

III. Patrick Free's Interrogations

In reviewing all the Defendant's statements, it is necessary to consider the conditions under which they were made--and how these conditions may have impacted upon his expectations, motives, and other behavior- relevant states of mind. Toward this end, the following aspects of this Defendant's interrogation raise serious cause for concern:

Interrogation time.

Patrick Free was taken into custody 1/8/98 at 5:18 p.m. and concluded his last of three taped statements on 1/9/98 at 10:29 a.m., more than seventeen hours later. During that period of time, he was questioned, interrogated, and tested repeatedly, with only brief respites, by a team of investigators that included Captain King; Detectives Henry, Ryan, and Leitenberger; and perhaps Detective D'Ascentis-who, according to Det. Leitenberger, had brought Patrick in for the polygraph. For eleven of these hours, he consistently denied the charges in response to persistent accusations. He gave a statement pertaining to the Suopys murder at 4:39-5:06 a.m., a revised statement at 6:02-7:09 a.m., and an unrelated third statement 10:02-10:29 a.m. At one point, according to Detective Henry, Patrick was confronted by four interrogators at the same time (7/13/00, p. 7).

By any normative or prescriptive measure, the length of this interrogation was excessive. Even Inbau, Reid, & Buckley (1986), authors of Criminal Interrogations and Confessions (3e)--the manual on which the widely used Reid technique is based-advise investigators not to conduct "unreasonably long interrogations." They specifically advise against sessions that exceed four hours, and ...

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