Saul Kassin’s Duped: Why Innocent People Confess and Why We Believe Their Confessions (Prometheus Books, 2022) is a part of the growing body of literature that discusses false confessions, the psychology behind false accusations, and the injustice that is baked into the American judicial system. What I think this book is doing differently is explaining why false confessions are so easily believed and, even more alarmingly, how false confessions can poison every other piece of evidence in a case.
Saul Kassin is a social psychologist and professor, specializing in evidence and trial procedure, as well as the scientific study off false confession. Kassin’s experience makes this book extremely effective. Kassin’s text makes several clear-cut arguments as it explains why innocent people confess, why we believe them, and what can be done to avoid the large numbers of false confessions that are taken in the United States each year. One thing I really appreciated about Kassin’s approach was how willing he was to criticize law enforcement and their techniques—he directly takes on procedures like the Reid Technique, as well as individual police officers and District Attorney’s that were involved with eliciting and prosecuting people based on a false confessions. He critiques these techniques and cases in an academic way: using summaries of case studies and statistics, he presents solid arguments as to why these individual cases and techniques failed, and what should have been done differently.
As a reader, you cannot argue with his logic: many people falsely confess to crimes they didn’t commit because of the way they were interrogated by law enforcement. The justice system is supposed to be set up to catch these kinds of errors in court of law so innocent people do not go to prison. Kassin shows his reader not only that these checks and balances in the justice system often fail, but how and why they do. I found his blatant criticism of law enforcement refreshing. Most true crime books do not go as far as Kassin goes to criticize these systems that more often than not fail the accused. And as has been shown in many cases where there was police misconduct or prosecutorial misconduct, these people are not usually held accountable for gross misdeeds. Kassin’s book attempts to make up the difference by holding the justice system to task.
One of my favorite sections of the book is a staunch takedown of the Reid Technique. The Reid Technique is a kind of guidebook that police officers use to interrogate suspects. Kassin uses the language of the Reid Technique against itself, systematically pulling apart its so-called logic and making a direct correlation between these techniques and false confessions. I could not help but cheer him on as I was reading: these techniques are outdated and do not produce the results they claim to. Kassin uses psychological facts to make his case, and his case is so crucial, because the misuse of interrogative techniques result in so many nightmares.
Kassin’s book is chock-full of facts, stats, experiment summaries, and quotations from other psychologists and sociologists. For this reason, I would say this book isn’t a light read. There is much to be learned from all the sources Kassin utilizes, but if you are looking for a fast-paced true crime read, this isn’t the book you are looking for. That being said, I would recommend that all true crime fans dive into this book because false confessions and the cascade affect they tend to create are not often not discussed as thoroughly as they are in Duped. In order to be responsible consumers of true crime material, I believe that we need to understand the systemic problems that Kassin is imploring us to pay attention to.
A copy of Duped was generously provided by the publisher to True Crime Index in exchange for an honest review.
About the Writer:
Jesyka Traynor is an academic living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. When she’s not writing or researching her dissertation, she’s consuming all the true crime and non-fiction she can find time for. Jesyka holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a doctorate in contemporary Californian literature. Her work on women in twenty-first century true crime has been published with Crime Fiction Studies.