Information for Prosecutors
Thank you for visiting this site. As a prosecutor, you have a tough, challenging,
and important job. You need to make sure that all the guilty are convicted
without wrongly convicting any innocent people by mistake. Only an open,
skeptical mind, consistently professional conduct, and a constant attention
to detail can prevent the innocent from going to jail or the guilty from
going free. In a world where guilty people deny their crimes and mentally
ill, deluded, or vindictive people falsely accuse the innocent, distinguishing
the truth from lies (or deeply-believed delusions and false memories) is
Nearly all prosecutors are dedicated professionals who chose the line
of work because they believe in it and are committed to doing the job well
and upholding justice. However, as in any profession, there are some people
who let their preexisting beliefs bias their thinking, and even a dedicated,
hard-working professional can make a mistake.
Studying the mistakes made in the past by others can keep you being
the next prosecutor to wind up on the front pages for wrongly convicting
an innocent person for a crime they didn't commit, or worse, a crime which
never took place.
Incest, child abuse, and neglect are real problems. So are false accusations.
At the risk of stating the obvious, when evaluating cases and choosing
whether to indict, please always be conscious of the following issues:
Not all accusations are true. Some believe, for example, that "a
woman would never accuse someone of rape or incest if it weren't true." It is certainly
true that historically, actual victims of physical and sexual abuse faced a great deal of
social denial and disbelief, and that America's increased willingness to acknowledge, stop,
and prevent real abuse is a positive development.
However, there are aso many documented cases of allegations which have been proven
false, and it is important to keep that problem in mind as well.
Both men and women can suffer from mental illnesses and have delusional
beliefs; an accuser may be mentally ill and have a poor grasp of
reality. (By the same token, mentally ill people can be actual victims of abuse just like anyone
else, so their allegations should not be dismissed out of hand either.)
Both men and women can be misled by incompetent, ignorant, irresponsible,
or mentally ill therapists into developing false memories of abuse or incest
which never occurred; an accuser may be the victim of bad therapy and genuinely
believe that what they are saying is true when it is demonstrably false.
Read the case of Beth Rutherford
who came to believe during therapy that her father had made her pregnant
and that she'd had two abortions; later medical examinations showed that
she was a virgin and that her father had had a vasectomy!
False memories and false accusations can also develop in people who have
not entered formal therapy but who have read suggestive literature like
The Courage to Heal, engaged in self-hypnosis,
automatic writing, literal dream interpretation, or other so-called "memory
recovery" techniques, or attended highly-charged "support group" meetings.
Both men and women sometimes knowingly make false accusations of crimes
which never took place. For example, false abuse accusations are a disturbingly
common tactic in contested custody cases.
Not all confessions are true. People sometimes confess to crimes
they didn't commit, or even crimes which never happened. As a result, law
enforcement officers investigating a crime must keep an open mind about
the possibility that a confession may be false. Some examples:
A serial killer confessed to (by his own count) 3000 murders he did not
commit. His death sentence for one such crime was recently commuted to
natural life in prison by the Governor of Texas. The killer now says his
false confessions were a conscious attempt to undermine the criminal justice
system. Law enforcement officials were eager to close unsolved cases even
gave him "hints" in attempts to "jog his memory" and would up assisting
him in his effort to sabotage the investigations of open cases.
Mentally ill people sometimes confess to crimes they didn't commit or which
never even took place.
People may, during intensive questioning, come to honestly believe that
they committed a crime and confess to it. This is particularly true of
highly suggestible individuals. For an instructive case study, visit the
Ingram Organization web
site or read Remembering Satan, an
account of the Paul Ingram case. After a daughter attended a religious
retreat and accused him of abuse, Ingram felt that his daughters would
not tell a lie and, on the advice of his friends in the police department
and his pastor, began trying to recover memories of abuse which he assumed
he must have repressed. A highly suggestible individual, he developed false
memories of committing abuse through intensive self-hypnosis and prayer
and ultimately confessed to involvement in a satanic sex abuse ring. Once
in prison and out of the influence of his friends and the pastor, Ingram
realized his mistake and recanted. However, he has exhausted his appeals
and has already served more than eight years of a twenty year prison sentence
for satanic sex ring crimes which simply never occurred.
Children are especially vulnerable to leading questions because of their
desire to please adults who are authority figures. During lengthy interviews,
they may also become willing to say whatever the adult asks in order to
escape from the interview. Consider the recent case in Chicago where a
girl was murdered. Police interviewed two young boys (seven and eight year
olds, if memory serves) at length without the presence of their parents,
an attorney, or a state-certified youth counselor. At the end of the interview,
the police emerged with a statement they had written which they said was
the boys' confession, the boys were indicted, and the district attorney
announced plans to prosecute. A few days later, laboratory tests found
semen on the murdured girl's clothing, making it clear that an older male
had committed the crime, and the boys were released. But if that physical
evidence had not been found, the boys would have been tried for the crime,
their "confession" would have been used as evidence, and no search would
have been made for the real killer. This case underlines the importance
of videotaping interviews of children so that well-meaning law enforcement
officials do not inadvertently coerce false confessions.
There is no evidence that large, organized satanic cults exist.
Allegations of ritual abuse by satanic cults are a sure tip-off that the
accuser is not a credible witness. Read The
Myth of Satanic Ritual Abuse on this site and the report
of FBI Special Agent Kenneth Lanning for more information.
There is no credible evidence that memories of chronic, violent abuse
can be "massively repressed" from conscious awareness and later "recovered."
There are thousands of anecdotal reports of this, just as there are
thousands of anecdotal reports of alien abduction and satanic ritual abuse,
but as Sydney Brandon, M.D., et al, observe in their recent report, there
is not even a single case in which this has been proven to have occurred.
Even if isolated cases are ultimately proven, the extremely low ratio of
confirmed cases to allegations will continue to make claims of massive
repression highly suspect. Evidence based on "recovered memories" is now
generally ruled inadmissable in court on the Daubert-Frye grounds that
there is not a consensus for the theory of memory repression in the relevant
Always keep in mind the need to assess credibility of the accuser. If
the accuser makes claims which are proven false, why should one believe
other claims for which there is no evidence either way?
A pattern of steadily increasing allegations over time is a warning
sign. Does the accuser implicate more and more people as time passes?
Do the accusations become more and more bizarre and improbable? This is
a warning sign that the accuser may be unknowingly confabulating false
stories which he or she honestly believes to be true.
Early assumptions can bias the interpretation of evidence found later.
If any assumptions were made early on during an investigation, remain
conscious of those assumptions and constantly question whether they need
to be changed in light of evidence discovered later. If a hypothesis was
made, don't make the classic mistake of accepting all confirmatory evidence
and dismissing all contradictory evidence.
Keep an open mind and constantly reexamine earlier assumptions and conclusions
on the basis of evidence found later. If there is no physical evidence,
periodically ask yourself "can we be sure a crime occurred?" If a crime
was definitely committed, periodically ask yourself "can we be sure that
we have the right suspect? Could someone else have committed the crime?"
A wrongful conviction is a triple injustice. If you convict the
wrong person of an actual crime, then an innocent person goes to prison,
the actual criminal remains at large and free to harm others, and public
confidence in the legal system will be undermined. If you convict someone
of a crime which in fact never occurred, it's a double injustice; an innocent
person goes to prison, and public confidence in the legal system will be
Study the mistakes of others so you don't repeat them. Prosecutors
are human. Like everyone else, they can make mistakes. By studying the
known mistakes of other prosecutors in cases like the Paul
Ingram case and others, you can reduce the risk of repeating those
Remember, only you can prevent wrongful convictions. As a prosecutor,
it is not your job to try every case you are presented with. You also have
a responsibility to exercise good judgement and choose not to indict in
cases where evidence is lacking. Convicting every person who is accused
is not your job; convicting those who have actually committed crimes without
convicting the innocent is your responsibility.
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