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Christopher Todd Adams

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Discredited Psychology & Junk Science In Police Work

Imagine being accused of a serious crime like murder, and to learn that the charges stem from the observations of a self-proclaimed expert in the detection of human deception. Based on what we now know about the limitations of psychology in crime fighting, that should sound as ridiculous as charging someone based on the observations of a self-proclaimed psychic.

Objectivity and scientific integrity are hallmarks of good police work. Unfortunately, these traits are not universally practiced. In fact, it might surprise many people to learn about the subjective “hunches” and junk science that many police officers use to determine guilt and pursue leads. Sadly, taxpayer dollars are being used to conduct training courses for police officers that actually make the problem worse, not better.

Recently, an online leak of law enforcement documents from the around the country revealed that many police agencies are investing in training courses that teach long-discredited theories and tactics and promote practices based on junk science. Once such course, which has been taught here in Georgia, was conducted by a woman who refers to herself as “Eyes for Lies” and extolls herself as being a “deception and credibility expert,” according to a recent news article.

These seminars are not simply a waste of taxpayer money. They are dangerous to anyone caught up in the criminal justice system, because they give investigators undeserved confidence in their own abilities to “read” suspects, to determine guilt based on their own hunches and to encourage aggressive prosecutions of individuals they identify as guilty.

“Evidence” obtained solely through these deception-detection techniques may not hold up in court, but it can convince law enforcement officers to pursue false leads and browbeat or coerce defendants into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit – a surprisingly common problem.

The Innocence Project is a group committed to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through the use of DNA evidence and other scientifically valid practices. Of the 375 inmates who have been cleared by DNA evidence so far, 29 percent were convicted based on false confessions, according to the group’s website.

When police officers become fixated on a suspect, it is surprisingly easy to extract a “confession” with enough time and pressure. This is especially true when suspects are young or have cognitive impairments. Most of the suspects freed by the Innocence Project were minors or very young adults at the time of their “confessions,” and about 9 percent suffered from mental capacity/mental health issues.

The fact that these kinds of tactics are still in use speaks to the importance experienced criminal defense representation and the necessity of the appeals process. If you are facing charges or have been convicted based on shaky evidence, please contact or firm to discuss how we can give you the defense your case deserves.

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