LAW: CURRENT CASES AND OPINIONS

ANALYSIS OF THE LEGAL WORLD AND ITS RELEVANCE TO OUR LIVES BOTH TODAY AND IN THE FUTURE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A PRE-LAW STUDENT

Monday, September 04, 2006

John Mark Karr: A Case of False Hope

After DNA tests taken last week returned a no match with that found on Jon Benet's body, John Mark Karr will not face murder charges however, Karr will face child pornography charges in the state of California. This news has brought rise to a great deal of questioning in regards to false confessions and the purpose or cause behind them as well as how the legal system will address these false claims. One of the mistakes made by the public was the assumption that Karr was guilty solely based on his public confession. Alan Hirsch, professor of legal studies at Williams College also mentions that it is a "rule of thumb" for people to overreact to confessions and believe them to be true without proof. According to legal experts, the fact that Karr made such a bold public confession was the first red flag in the honesty of his claim. Scholars of law note that there are two categories of reasons as to why an individual would make a false confession to a crime. These are deemed as voluntary or coerced false confessions.

The first, voluntary false confessions are usually predisposed by a thirst for eminence. It is not rare for several innocent individuals to come forth with a guilty confession in high profile cases. Voluntary false confessions are notorious for deceiving authorities as well, especially in cases where the suspect is guilty for the murder of one person yet falsely claims to have murdered several others. The second, coerced false confessions often involve confessions based on trickery by police interrogation methods, family or friends taking responsibility for crimes committed by those with previous convictions or involving those who are under extreme pressure during interrogation and who will admit to anything to end the affliction. According to Saul Kassin, a psychology professor at Williams College, the case of John Mark Karr will most likely be categorized as a voluntary false confession. The few details from his public confession and stature indicate a desire for attention.

Another possibility is that an arrest in Thailand and the fear of the criminal justice system and prisons there may have been a motive for Karr to admit to a crime committed here in the United States, in hopes of being extradited. Whichever the case may be, the way in which authorities and prosecutors are able to tell a real confession from one that is false is by making a five-step analysis of the confession. These steps involve looking to see if the confession contains information that was never revealed before, checking to see how the suspect's details fit in with the established evidence, analyzing the consistency of the claim, considering the reliability of the claim and lastly the merit of the individual making the confession must be considered. Although Karr's confession did contain details never before revealed in the Ramsey case, DNA tests refuted Karr's claims thus signifying the nature of his confession as voluntary.

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