When Senator Larry Craig stepped into that bathroom stall on June 11th, he did not expect to emerge an unlikely poster child for false confessions. Senator Craig has since attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, alleging that he was in a “state of intense anxiety” at the time of the confession. Craig’s attorney, Billy Martin, stated that Craig was not "thinking clearly, and he waived his constitutional rights, and we're asking that to be reversed”. Martin elaborated that Craig had been suffering severe "pressure" and "stress" from a recent interview with the Idaho Statesman newspaper over allegations that he was secretly gay and was panicked "from what this could do." The senator's attorneys plan to argue that the police officer who arrested Craig suggested that pleading guilty was "an easy way out" because he claimed he would not alert the media.
Craig’s strategy brings attention to the issue of false confessions. Saul M. Kassin, a psychologist at Williams College, classifies false confessions into three categories: voluntary, coerced-internalized and coerced-compliant. Voluntary false confessions differ from the other two types because they are given no outside influences. Most voluntary confessions are the result of the person wanting to become famous (or notorious), but they can also be caused by feelings of guilt over other incidents, the inability to distinguish fact from fiction, or to help or protect the real criminal. Coerced-internalized false confessions occur when the suspect comes to erroneously believe that they committed a crime because of information they are being told by the interrogators. Younger suspects, suspects who are tired, and highly suggestible individuals are most likely to fall victim to internalized false confessions.
Craig’s defense argues that his confession was in fact a coerced-compliant false confession. A coerced-compliant false confession is when the suspect confesses because he or she sees confessing as the only way out of a situation. The suspect makes the confession knowing it to be untrue because he or she wishes to escape a bad situation, avoid a real or implied threat, or gain some kind of reward.
As is pointed out on The Truth About False Confessions blog, there are a number of disturbing details surrounding the Craig confession. One is that the tape of his interrogation exemplifies the techniques that tend to lead to false confessions. On the transcript of Craig’s interrogation, Investigative Sgt. Dave Karsnia promises not to call the media if Craig cooperates. If an innocent person were in Craig’s position, it would not be unreasonable to consider pleading guilty if he or she believed doing so could make the incident “disappear.” Two is the quickness with which many have concluded that Craig must be guilty because he plead guilty. Upon the breaking of story, Craig was stripped of his Senate committee assignments and condemned by members of both parties.
The irony of the whole situation is that Senator Craig, who has a voting record viewed unfavorably by civil liberties organizations, now finds himself benefitting from their advocacy on his behalf. But, as written on the ACLU Blog, “you don’t have to endorse the civil liberties of other to keep your own."