CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

"False memories and false confessions: the psychology of imagined crimes"

From Wired, via the NACDL news scan:

In 1995 - the year Franklin's case ended - Loftus tested out her theory experimentally. Working with graduate student Jacqueline Pickrell, she recruited 24 participants and gave each of them booklets containing details of four experiences they'd had between the ages of four and six. Researchers contacted each participant's parents for details of three true stories. The fourth story, however, was false: it involved an imaginary incident where the subject got lost in a shopping centre as a child, was rescued by a stranger and returned to their parents.

To make it believable, Loftus asked the participants' parents for details that could have been true - such as the name of a local shopping centre that actually existed when the participants were young. They were asked to think about the four memories and write down as many details as they recalled. When interviewed about their recollections, some began to share how they'd felt, and even what their rescuer was wearing - despite the fact that it was all untrue. "It was groundbreaking, because it showed that we can implant false memories of entire experiences. That's something we hadn't done before in the lab," says Shaw.

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While memories of past events are often used as evidence in civil and criminal trials, the heavy reliance on repressed memory in the Franklin case was unique in American criminal law. Trial courts had long recognized that memories could be faulty, especially when they were of events from far in the past. In this case, the federal appeals court found that the repressed memories of Franklin were no different from other types of memories, and it criticized the trial court for refusing to let the defense test these memories, as it would have been able to test any others. And it's a triumph of justice that after being imprisoned for six years, George Franklin was released from jail when his conviction was overturned.

Posted by: Joseph Potashnik Attorney | Aug 10, 2017 3:10:36 AM

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