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The Central Park 5:
Tricking a Bunch of Kids to Confess
to a Crime they Didn't Commit

How do five kids get convicted for a crime they didn’t commit? And even more absurd, how do these kids falsely confess to the crime they are innocent of? A close analysis of the Central Park 5 case is necessary to see problems in our criminal justice system and why people should be more leery of supposed confessions. And what to do if you are caught in a terrible situation like the Centra Park 5 case.

Background

On April 19, 1989, several crimes were committed in Central Park of varying severity. A great many of the crimes were minor infractions by teenagers. Raymond Santana was among a group of teenagers that impulsively ran when a police car approached. He was arrested for “unlawful assembly”. But he, like all of these boys, ended up being charged with far worse.

That same night where a lot of juvenile behavior occurred in Central Park, a 29-year-old investment bank was viciously raped. She became known as “the Central Park Jogger”. This case quickly became a national sensation. It very rightfully outraged people to learn that this poor woman was knocked unconscious and raped by an unknown assailant in the middle of the night. But what was not right was the methods the police used to investigate this case.

The Interrogations

The police already had several black juvenile kids in custody for other minor infractions that night at Central Park. These kids immediately became suspects. The interrogation that ensued was intensive. And is precisely the type of interrogation that should not be used on juveniles, especially in circumstances where you have no physical evidence. The police told these juveniles that others had already ratted them out, so they might as well tell them what really happened. Multiple of the juveniles took the bait. As Raymond Santana explained how his thought process worked as he was being told this by police, “If they are going to do me, I’m going to do them.” We would all like to think that we would never lie and that we would never throw anyone under the bus. But it can end up being a far different situation when the bright lights are on you, and the police are letting you know that your answers can add or subtract decades from your prison sentence. The temptation to play along with the police, implicate others, and minimize yourself in the fictious story can be immense. And that’s what happened to the Central Park 5. Although as we would later learn, they had nothing to do with the brutal sexual assault of the Central Park Jogger.

Takeaways for the Falsely Accused

What do you do if you are put in this position? First of all, don’t waive your Miranda rights and ask to speak to an attorney. But if you're reading this after having given a statement and been coerced into confessing, it is important that you have a skilled criminal defense attorney to argue that the confession was coerced. It’s a very difficult argument to make. Most people have a hard time believing somebody would falsely confess. But the data shows that this happens regularly (see Saul Kassin’s book, Duped). The entire argument hangs on the ability of the attorney to reframe what actually happened in that interrogation room. A skilled criminal defense attorney will be in a much better position than an attorney who just accepts the confession as is.

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Peter Lindstrom, Esq.

Founder of Subzero Criminal Defense

I practice exclusively in the state of Minnesota. If you are falsely accused in Minnesota, contact me for a consultation. If you are falsely accused in another state or country, contact a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction. 

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