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Research shows innocent people can be convinced they are guilty

Maryland residents might be surprised to learn that a new research study shows adults can be persuaded that they are guilty of crimes they did not commit more than 70 percent of the time. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom and the University of British Columbia in Canada, indicated that false memories of crime participation could be generated in as little as three hours by a friendly interrogator who introduces true and false details into conversation with a subject.

The information was gathered by identifying 60 university students with no criminal record and asking their primary caregivers to fill out detailed questionnaires about events the students may have experienced as teenagers. The caregivers were told not to discuss the questionnaires with the students. In a 40-minute lab interview, the students were told about two events that happened in their teens. One event was true, the other false, involving either a crime or a personal trauma. The interviewer laced the false event with some true details about the students' lives taken from the caregiver questionnaire. The research participants were then interviewed twice more over a two-week period and asked to describe the two events in detail.

The results of the interviews were surprising. Of the students who were incorrectly told they participated in a crime, 71 percent developed a false memory of the event. Some of the participants recalled elaborate details of their interactions with police. The students who were told they experienced a personal trauma developed false memories in nearly 77 percent of the cases.

Based on this information, it may be beneficial to have a criminal defense attorney present during all police interviews, as they may be subjected to leading and manipulative questioning. The presence of an attorney could protect someone from similar interview tactics if they are charged with a crime.

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