Ernesto Miranda (right) confers with his attorney, John J. Flynn, in Phoenix in 1967. (Photo: Bettman/Corbis)

It would seem an accepted truth that coerced confessions are a blot on a justice system. And yet human actions remind us that it is a lesson that must be re-learned over and over.

This week the New York Times told a gripping story about a number of people who had been convicted—wrongly—based on their own admissions. It began with a fellow named Ed Lowery, who spent 10 years in prison for a rape he did not commit.

But how could those stories still have the power to be gripping at all? For isn’t it a tale we have read many times over?

Eddie Lowery spent 10 years in prison after confessing to a rape he did not commit. He got a $7.5 million settlement. (Steve Hebert for The New York Times)

This month in Arizona Attorney, we are running a book review that goes directly to the heart of that issue. Gary Stuart has penned Innocent Until Interrogated: The True Story of the Buddhist Temple Massacre and the Tucson Four. Our review by Tom Galbraith examines not only the book, but also some of the inevitable questions that readers will have.

The primary question is always the hardest: Why in the world would someone confess if he didn’t commit the crime?

Tom acknowledges how most of us will be flummoxed by that mystery. Here’s how he explains it:

“[W]hy would anyone confess to a crime—especially a murder—if he did not do the deed? It not only defies common sense; it discards self-preservation. That’s why confessions are such powerful proof. Would you tell the cops that you killed nine human beings, if in fact you were innocent?”

“It is not possible to give a completely satisfying answer to this question. The problem lies in the formulation. The “you” who are jurors and the “you” who will read Stuart’s book in the comfort of your armchairs are very different from the sleep-deprived, mentally deficient, young or emotionally unbalanced subjects of the Temple Murders interrogations. No author can flush away 30 points from a reader’s IQ; simulate sleep deprivation; expunge sophistication; destroy self-confidence; infuse defeatism; or fully recreate the psychological effect on a scared young person being expertly interrogated by authority figures almost continuously for five hours, 10, 20 … all the way up to 36 hours for one member of the Tucson Four.”

As you can see, Tom is not only an excellent writer; he also is a first-rate thinker (we like to have both in our authors). And he and Gary Stuart both urge readers toward an understanding of that most quizzical of problems. I hope you read the review when it’s online on October 1. And Gary’s book is available online at the University of Arizona Press. Click here to read more.

(A portion of Gary Stuart’s new book was excerpted in the May 2008 issue of Arizona Attorney, where it garnered an award in our annual Creative Arts Competition. You can read that excerpt here.)

As long as I’m pointing to good magazine writing on this topic, I have to tip my hat to Liane J. Jackson, who just wrote Turning Miranda “Upside Down” for the ABA Journal (September issue). Her story adroitly describes how the U.S. Supreme Court is “slic[ing] off pieces of the famous 1966 criminal rights case, Miranda v. Arizona.”

The article looks at three recent cases at the Court, and what it means for interrogation. She quotes a number of people on the topic (including Richard Wintory, an Arizona lawyer and chief counsel for the Border Crimes Enforcement Section of the Arizona Attorney General’s Office). But she concludes with a quotation by Chicago defense attorney Terence Campbell, who speaks about finding other ways to protect civil liberties—such as taping police interrogations—given the direction interrogation jurisprudence is taking.

“This is particularly important when you have a juvenile, or someone whose psychological traits make them susceptible to manipulation or coercion by skilled interrogators.”

Gary Stuart—or Tom Galbraith—couldn’t have said it better.