Wednesday, November 14, 2018

DOC NYC Spotlight: False Confessions

I’m excited to have been able to screen a few selections from DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eighth year in New York City from November 8th-15th.

False Confessions
Directed by Katrine Philp
Festival Screenings

There are many issues with the legal system in America, one of which is spotlighted in another DOC NYC selection, “Crime + Punishment.” There are, unfortunately, far too many people who have gone to jail and served or continue to serve years for crimes that they did not commit. There may be a number of reasons for that, and one of the most prominent is the failure of suspects to be adequately equipped with their right to remain silent, incriminating themselves with the most damning evidence of all – their own signed confession, regardless of whether or not its contents are true.

False confessions being attained during interrogations is much more common than most would expect, and accounts for a staggering percentage of convictions. Several prominent cases are highlighted that illustrate how those currently incarcerated were pressured into giving and signing confessions that did not reflect what actually happened. After that, getting a conviction becomes easy, and this filmmaker and featured defense attorney want to expose the prevalence of this practice and help to exonerate those who have suffered most as a result of something they were forced to do under duress.

This documentary is a mesmerizing examination of how people are bullied into giving false confessions. The universal assumption that audience members insist that this couldn’t happen to them is dispelled through video footage of interrogations that led to false confessions and a very precise breakdown of exactly what happens during that process. Looking at exactly how the questions are phrased and how they provide no way out for an innocent person sheds enormous light on just how confusing and manipulative withstanding an interrogation designed to get a confession can be. This is a very scientific analysis, one that is equally watchable and informative.

While there are indeed many injustices within the American legal system, this is one that discriminates in a far subtler way than most. Preying on people in their weakest moments and forcibly reframing the way they see their options can affect anyone accused of a crime, and it often affects those most vulnerable in society. The best summary of this film is that interrogating with the goal of getting a confession only works if the guilty party is arrested one hundred percent of the team, which can’t possibly occur. This overview is extremely educational and worthwhile, looking at this widespread problem and helping to shed light on a few people who have been penalized worst by it.


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