in a larger context, I have to confess some unease about making confession a requirement in any part of our criminal justice system.
As recent events in Dallas County have made so clear, innocent people really do get convicted.
So while confession may be good for the soul, I’m not sure it should ever be a requirement for freedom.
This issue has emerged as more and more innocent people have been freed by DNA evidence. Some talked about the squeeze they felt when they came up for parole.
Prisoners are routinely asked about their crimes. There’s the distinct impression that owning up to a crime and showing some remorse will go a long way in winning parole.
“It’s a Catch-22 if you are an innocent person,” said the Rev. Jim McCloskey, executive director of Centurion Ministries, which works to free the wrongly convicted.
“It’s very common. It has happened in a number of our cases.”
It has happened to kids, too. One of the many criticisms leveled at the Texas Youth Commission was that it required young people to confess to crimes as a condition of being “resocialized” and ready for release.
“Basically, if you were wrongly convicted and sent here and then stuck to the truth, you could be punished for that. If you lied, you could move ahead,” said Youth Commission spokesman Jim Hurley.
While TYC counselors still like to see young offenders take responsibility for their actions, confession is no longer a condition of release, he said.
Blow's point is well taken, especially since so much of the investigatory process in modern US policing is about convincing defendants to confess. About half of criminal convictions result from confessions, according to a book I'm reading by Richard Leo on police interrogations. But coercing confessions has consequences; mainly the risk of punishing the innocent and freeing the guilty.
Among those who was penalized by his failure to confess to crimes he didn't commit was James Lee Woodard, who was released from prison recently after spending 27+ years behind bars. He actually "stopped attending his parole hearings because gaining his release would have meant confessing to a crime he didn't do."
Fantroy appears by all accounts but his own to be guilty as homemade sin, but quite a few people like James Lee Woodard who "looked guilty"on the front end have wound up exonerated down the line. I tend to agree with Blow that a confession shouldn't be required for a reduced sentence or parole. Fantroy's circumstances aside, occasional errors by the system are simply a fact, and when they occur it'd be unfair to further punish actually innocent people for them.
RELATED from the Dallas News:
- Scott Farwell: Fantroy says he'll go to prison rather than admitting guilt
- Gromer Jeffers: Why did Fantroy choose jail?