Finally, we get a comprehensive explanation how those false confessions happen. Confessions, false or true, are very powerful things. That's because, as researcher Saul Kassin found, jurors convicted whenever a confession was signed. In the current issue of THE NEW YORKER, Douglas Starr published the article "The Interview: Do police interrogation techniques produce false confessions?" Here is an excerpt from it (sub. req.)
Likely too many of us assumed that false confessions resulted from some loose screw. The suspect felt a universal sense of guilt. So, what the hell, confess to something specific. And receive the punishment perceived as deserved. One's whole life collapses.
No, that isn't the pattern. Starr traces false confessions to the system of interrogation developed by criminal justice and polygraph expert John Reid. That dates back to 1955.
For years afterward, police would use the techniques, ranging from minimizing moral blame to outright lying about what evidence had been collected, to extract confessions. That process could continue over days. Without sleep and subjected to perfected manipulations, the suspect could be near insane.
Now, of course, there have been reforms such as video-taping of the interrogation. However, in the U.S. the Reid method prevails. In England, they have developed a different approach based primarily of asking discovery questions over and over again. Usually guilty suspects will trap themselves in contradictions. Also, real evidence is presented in a matter-of-fact way. That is bound to be persuasive to suspects.
For some reason, this development hasn't been so comprehensively embraced as an import to America as "Downton Abbey."