Here’s one reason.
Last week, a federal court of appeals reversed the conviction of an 18-year-old boy who had confessed to molesting another 8-year-old boy. That may sound like an open-and-shut case of a predator or monster we should throw the book at, but hold on. The older boy had an IQ of 65, and the court reversed his conviction because it held that his so-called confession was involuntarily obtained. That’s a nice way of saying it was coerced, and in all likelihood, it was a false confession about a crime that never occurred.
You see, the two boys were part of the same extended family, so they were relatives, and their families were feuding something fierce. It may have been like the Hatfields and McCoys but worse because the families lived next door to each other. I don’t think the Hatfields and McCoys did that.
One day, allegedly, the eight-year-old came home and told his family that the older boy had “put his pee-pee in [my] butt” and that “his butt was hurting.” The next day, he was asked about it in a forensic interview, and bless his heart, the boy proceeded to spin a yarn so fantastical that only an eight-year-old could pull it off with a straight face. You have to read it to believe it. Most of his allegations were not corroborated by any physical evidence, and his anal and genital exam revealed no signs of trauma, injuries, or bodily fluids.
A week later, investigators showed up at the older boy’s house to interrogate him. They realized right away that he was intellectually disabled, but they either didn’t know any better as investigators or didn’t care enough about getting things right, because they didn’t let that get in the way of their collar.
They asked him whether he was home on the day in question, and they insisted that he was until he eventually stopped disagreeing with them, even though he wasn’t. They suggested he wouldn’t get in any trouble if the hypothetical encounter was just a one-time thing, saying he could “move on” if it was all “just a misunderstanding,” but only if he were truthful. They conveyed, repeatedly, that he had to tell them something or they would keep coming back until he did.
Basically, they badgered and browbeat him until he told them what they wanted to hear, or until he began agreeing with their version of the facts, and when he did, they wrote out a statement for him and made him sign it, telling him it was just an apology note to the other kid and they wouldn’t tell anyone about it.
Oh, they told on him alright. The boy was charged with aggravated sexual abuse of a minor in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2241(c), which means he initially faced a thirty-year mandatory-minimum sentence. He was eventually convicted of a lesser offense (on the basis of the confession, no doubt), and sentenced to fifty months in prison and a lifetime of supervised release. On appeal, a panel of two appellate judges voted to uphold the conviction while one dissented. The boy’s lawyers petitioned the full court of appeals to rehear the case, and the wrong was finally righted. Sort of.
Just makes you wonder what took so long.