Not guilty as charged

Graham Stafford.
Graham Stafford.

A MORE formal and structured police interview process may have saved Sunshine Coast man Graham Stafford from 15 years in jail for a crime he did not commit.

Professor Paul Wilson, a leading psychologist, said the conclusion police had reached that Stafford lied when interviewed about the death of 13-year-old Leanne Holland at Ipswich was a consequence of the way he had been questioned.

He said interviews of suspects had to be more formal and police needed to be made aware of the range of motivations that may drive a particular response.

Prof Wilson will tell the national conference of the Australian Psychological Society College of Forensic Psychologists in Noosa today that he estimates there are 8500 wrongful convictions being recorded in Australian courts annually.

The reasons for that range from accused being unable to afford legal representation, the caseload of duty solicitors and accused being convinced to plea bargain for lower sentences.

A key element, which the Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society and a Research Fellow and Honorary Professor in Criminology at Bond University, will address in detail in his keynote address is the incidence of false confession.

“It is a myth that people only confess to a crime if they are guilty and this false belief leads to many innocent people being charged with crimes, and subsequently convicted,” Prof Wilson said.

“Psychological research reveals false confessions can occur when a person is either psychologically or physically pressured by police to confess.

“In other cases, people confess not because they are guilty but because they seek fame, they are mentally unstable or they find the whole police interview process so stressful they will say anything to make it stop.”

Prof Wilson said UK research had found that false confessions were the second most frequent cause of wrongful conviction.

Topics:  police

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