World
True or False, the Power of Confessions is Great
The Etan Patz murder trial is the latest test case for measuring the power of a confession, whether or not it's actually true
 
Over the next several months, defense lawyers for Pedro Hernandez will seek to undercut the central evidence against him: his videotaped confession to having killed 6-year-old Etan Patz.
They will depict the confession as inaccurate when set against the known facts of the infamous 1979 missing child case. They will portray Hernandez, a onetime bodega clerk in the Manhattan neighborhood where Patz lived, as mentally ill. They will paint the detectives who gained the confession as manipulative and coercive.
 
It's a daunting assignment, but here's what may well be scaring the lawyers the most: They could succeed in every aspect of their attack on the reliability of the confession and still not win an acquittal.
 
Such is the power of confessions, true or false, for American juries. A nascent body of scholarship, driven in part by an escalating number of wrongful convictions in cases with false confessions, has begun to document just how persuasive confessions can be.
 
Of course, the power of confessions owes in part to the fact that they very often are true. Certainly, that is the argument Manhattan prosecutors will make as they seek to hold Hernandez responsible for a case that has haunted the city, and parents nationwide, for decades. Prosecutors say Hernandez's claims that he strangled the young boy after luring him from his school bus stop are credible, and that any mental health issues he suffers from are not serious. They also argue that the confession is supported by the accounts of others who maintain Hernandez told similar stories of killing a child over the years.
 
But false confessions – including those questioned at trial by effective defense lawyers – also have proven to carry extraordinary weight with juries. Several studies, using mock jurors and sophisticated analysis, have demonstrated that confessions outweigh the value of eyewitness and character testimony. And in at least one case, according to a 2010 study, prosecutors chose to believe a confession even when the accused seemed categorically cleared by DNA evidence.
 
That 2010 study, which appeared in Cornell Law School's Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, produced and reflected on some fascinating insights into the otherwise under-examined universe of juror belief and behavior.
 
Jurors believe they can better judge a confession's truthfulness if it has been videotaped, as opposed to audiotaped or written out (Hernandez's confession was videotaped.) Still, barely 40 percent of jurors interviewed were confident they could determine whether a videotaped confession was truthful. The study also remarked that jurors were more likely to regard a videotaped confession as truthful if the tape involved only the accused. They were less inclined to accept the confession when the tapes included the accused's interrogators. 
 
Jurors tended to believe that police officials were better equipped to evaluate confessions than ordinary citizens, even though a 2005 study showed police actually performed less well than college students in a lie detection experiment. In the 2010 study, non-white jurors were less inclined to regard police as better suited to assessing the truthfulness of confessions. 
 
The 461 mock jurors used in the study said there was a better than 50-50 chance that a jury "would convict a suspect who falsely confessed to a murder, even when there was no other evidence that he or she was guilty."
 
On Thursday, the judge in the Patz case was still working to seat a jury. To date, Judge Maxwell Wiley has kept aspects of the case out of public view. The questioning of some jurors has taken place in secret, and the content of those interrogations kept under seal. The actual videotaped confession, while having been played in open court, has also been kept from the public and news organizations. And at least two hearings on what evidence will be admitted during trial have also been kept under seal, including one on Thursday.
 
Not surprisingly, then, the lists of witnesses to be called by both sides have not been made available. And thus whether Hernandez's defense team plans to call expert witnesses to testify on the phenomenon of false confessions is unclear. The value of such testimony, however, was endorsed by the state's highest court in 2012.
 
"That the phenomenon of false confessions is genuine has moved from the realm of startling hypothesis into that of common knowledge, if not conventional wisdom," ruled Judge Susan P. Read of the New York State Court of Appeals.
 
Hernandez's confession, again, might well be accurate. If so, and he is convicted, it will be a significant accomplishment for prosecutors who have kept an open file on the case since Patz went missing on his first day of going to school alone.
 
But in the nearly three years since Hernandez's highly publicized arrest, some experts and law enforcement officials have expressed doubts about the confession's reliability. Hernandez, as well as the circumstances of his confession, raise the array of red flags looked for when assessing potentially false confessions: a history of mental illness; a long interrogation (it lasted over the course of 36 hours, much of it not recorded); the crime having been recently the subject of widespread media attention (weeks before Hernandez confessed, a development in the Patz case had been front page news in New York).
 
Hernandez's trial is expected to last two to three months. The confession will be played, maybe played repeatedly. And the jury will have to decide what to make of it. And when they do, there will be more material for experts on confessions to study. On how juries regard them, on how judge's handle them, on how expert testimony can help the process or not.
 
"In the area of interrogations and false confessions" the 2010 study said, "there has been relatively little research exploring the beliefs and abilities of key actors in the legal system such as judges, police and jurors."
 
Related coverage: For more about the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz, read the story ProPublica produced with WNYC in 2013 and our story about Hernandez's confession. And learn more about the questionnaire potential jurors were asked to fill out.
 
Courtesy: ProPublica.org

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Nifty, Sensex gains may be capped – Thursday closing report

Nifty will weaken if it closes below 8,860

 

As we mentioned in Wednesday’s closing report, the Thursday move on the Indian indices was highly volatile, partly due to the expiry of January futures and options (F&O).
 
The S&P BSE Sensex opened at 29,516 while NSE’s CNX Nifty opened at 8,902. After lower opening, both the benchmarks made repeated efforts to rally. During the day, Sensex, and Nifty hit a low at 29,378 and 8,861, respectively. Around 3pm, suddenly the benchmarks made a sharp quick upmove and entered into green zone where it hit its day’s high at 29,741 and 8,967. Sensex closed at 29,682 (up 123 points or 0.41%) while Nifty closed at 8,952 (up 38 points or 0.43%). NSE recorded a huge volume of 113.05 crore shares. India VIX fell 1.71% to close at 19.4325.
 
The sixth bi-monthly monetary review from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is scheduled on 3 February 2015.
 
The Indian government on Wednesday decided against appealing a court order that absolved Vodafone of Rs3,200 crore tax demand in a transfer pricing case. Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government wants to convey a clear and positive message to investors globally that it would be "fair, transparent and within the four corners of law.
 
Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the proposal of the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) to proceed with auction in 2100 MHz band along with 800, 900 and 1800 MHz bands. The reserve price approved for 2100 MHz Band is Rs3,705 crore pan-India per MHz.
 
The IMF set a June deadline for making progress on reforms that would give emerging countries more say in how the world lender is run, an attempt to break a standoff created by US failure to ratify the changes.
 
Global credit rating agency Moody's Investor Service on Thursday said the recommended reforms in food subsidy and distribution will reduce India's inflationary pressures and fiscal deficit.
 
Coming back to Indian stock markets, HDIL (11.19%) was the top gainer in ‘A’ group on the BSE. After posting weak bottomline in its December 2014 quarter result Oriental Bank of Commerce (10.18%) was the top loser in the group.
 
Dr Reddy’s Lab (3.74%) was the top gainer in Sensex 30 pack. The stock today posted weak December 2014 quarter result.
 
HDFC (2.61%) which was the top gainer on Wednesday was the top loser today in the Sensex 30 stock. The mortgage lender today posted its December 2014 quarter result which showed an improvement in its top line and bottom line performance.
 
US indices closed Wednesday in the red. US Federal Reserve unexpectedly lifted its view on the economy, signalling that the US central bank remains firmly on track with plans to raise interest rates this year.
 
All the Asian indices closed in the red. Shanghai Composite (1.31%) was the top loser. Japanese retail sales rose 0.2% in December from a year earlier, marking the sixth straight month of increase, the government said today. The figures, released by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, highlighted that consumer demand continues to rebound after the national sales tax increased to 8% from 5% in April.
 
European indices were showing mixed performance while US Futures were trading higher. Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reportedly said yesterday, 28 January 2015, that he will push for debt relief from the country's international creditors.
 

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Framework for 100 smart cities to be ready by February says Aggarwal
According to the Urban Development Secretary, in next two days the government will complete the process of identification of 100 cities, which it wants to make smart
 
The framework for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ambitious project of developing 100 smart cities will be finalised by next month-end, Union Urban Development Secretary Shankar Aggarwal said.
 
"In another two days we will complete the process of identification of the 100 cities which we want to make smart. We are working on the guidelines and we expect the framework will be ready by 28th February," Aggarwal told reporters on the sidelines of an event in Mumbai.
 
The Urban Development Secretary delivered his keynote address at an interactive panel discussion on 'Smart Cities in India: Reality in the Making' jointly organized by MVIRDC World Trade Centre and All India Association of Industries along with the Indo-French Chamber of Commerce & Industry. 
 
Aggarwal said, the government's vision is to develop cities with technology-based governance that will enable efficient public services and have 24x7 water and power supply, 100% sewerage, drainage and solid waste management facilities, besides top class infrastructure.
 
The government expects a large contribution from the private sector in developing the cities, he added.
 
"We plan to develop these cities on public private partnership basis. Every city would on an average need investments to the tune of Rs1,000 crore over next 10 years. We want the private sector to contribute largely, nearly 80-85 per cent, towards this development," Aggarwal said.
 
The ministry has asked the states to ensure that the cities which are picked under the smart cities initiative meet the broad contours listed by it, including economically viable cities, meeting the requirements of 'e-governance', 'Swachh Bharat' and 'Make in India'.
 
"The Centre will take a final call based on criteria like cities accounting for 54 per cent of incremental GDP till 2025, hill and coastal areas, tourist and religious centres and mid-sized cities," he added.
 
While attempting to define the smart city concept, Sanjay Sethi, Additional Metropolitan Commissioner-I, Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) said that the right definition would emphasize the process of creating a smart city and not the final product. 

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COMMENTS

Jyoti Dua

2 years ago

Before declaring the list of cities to be developed into smart cities, the sale of property in those cities be frozen.

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