Monday, August 16, 2010

Did Congress “Beat” a Confession out of Toyota with a Rubber Hose?

You may have read that in 25% of those cases involving innocent people imprisoned and later exonerated by DNA testing, those falsely imprisoned had “confessed” to a crime they did not commit. Since the discovery and implementation of DNA testing, hundreds of thousands of innocent men and women have been freed from our prisons, some on the verge of being executed. Unfortunately we will never know how many innocent people we have executed or how many are still in prison because there was no DNA evidence.

DNA testing of accused criminals is the result of applying the surging scientific knowledge we didn’t have only a few years ago. Analogous to DNA is the “black box” which used to be only in airplanes but now is being used increasingly in automobiles. This box contains scientific instruments that record the seconds and minutes before and after accidents. This black box can tell if the brake was applied and, if so, how long and how hard. It can tell us the same about the accelerator. Of course it can tell the speed, acceleration or deceleration and the direction the car is traveling.

Scientific tests like DNA have shown that, what we relied on most before for evidence, confessions and eye-witness accounts are extremely unreliable. How many innocent people were imprisoned or executed over the years by eye-witnesses or false confessions? We will never know.

If you’re a regular reader, you know where I’m going with this. The media has recently, but reluctantly, released the finding of the NHTSA that all of the black box tests on Toyotas so far have shown the crashes to be driver error. There is no evidence of any kind showing the electronic throttle controls or sticky accelerators to have caused one single crash or injury. In fact, the tests prove that the many drivers who swore their accelerators stuck and they could not brake to slow down or stop, never once applied the brake, clearly proving that they thought they were but instead were holding down the accelerator to the floor. I’m not suggesting that all of these drivers are lying so that they can sue Toyota, although there certainly some of that going on. I believe that these people firmly believe their foot was on the brake and not the accelerator the whole time. One woman was quoted as saying, I don’t care what the scientific evidence says, I know where my foot was. Similar statements have been made by eye-witnesses to crimes who were proven wrong by DNA tests.

All of this begs the question, why would Toyota or any innocent person or company confess to something they did not do. Back in the old days, that was an easy question to answer. Before we had the Miranda Act and before we videotaped confessions, all the cops had to do was “beat it out” of the accused. The cops can’t use rubber hoses anymore, but they can use psychological rubber hoses. They can make deals for shorter sentences or probation suggesting that if they are found guilty by a jury the sentence will be much, much worse. They can tell the accused that, if they don’t confess to this crime, the police will make a major effort to investigate them on a multitude of other possible crimes until they find something. The police can exert a large amount of duress without violating the rules. They can pretend that they have evidence they don’t, they can question an accused for long periods and repeatedly, they can suggest that they will let it be known on the street that the accused “ratted out” his friends, and they can shout and scream as much as they like. A big cop with a big gun can be pretty terrifying.

Scientific studies on false confessions have all come to the same conclusion. They all have one thing in common and that is a decision at some point during the interrogation process that confessing will be more beneficial to them than continuing to maintain their innocence. So there we have it. Jim Lentz, the President of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Yoshi Inabla the President of Toyota of North America, and Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota all felt they had far more to lose by telling the truth than by falsely confessing.

With the U.S. Congress and the National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) fueled by a biased media on the attack, it would have been corporate PR hari kari for Toyota to blame their customers for the reported crashes. They had no choice but to apologize to Congress and the public and confess to a crime they didn’t commit because “confessing will be more beneficial to them than continuing to maintain their innocence”.

Now that Toyota’s innocence has been proven by scientific tests, you would think that somebody would apologize. Like Ray LaHood, chairman of NHTSA, who advised everybody driving a Toyota to “pull over to the side of the road and get out of the car”? How about Bart Stupak and John Dingell, the Congressmen from Michigan who are “in the tank” for the UAW who shouted at Jim Lentz to apologize to those families of those who his defective Toyotas had killed. The media will never apologize. In fact, they won’t even give the exoneration anywhere near the coverage they gave the erroneous allegations.

1 comment:

  1. Earl, this is the dirty secret no one wants to talk about. When you get to be as old as me, 82, you don't possess all the faculties you once had. That is why I surrendered my car keys to my kids a year ago. I was making too many little mistakes. One day, who knows, maybe I'd make a big mistake. Most of the sudden acceleration cases were reported by the elderly. Many of us are very proud and reluctant to admit we've lost some of the abilities of youth. You are right, Toyota would have been more damned if they blamed older drivers. They took the safest course. Earl I have always been impressed with your make no apologies approach to tough issues like these. This was a very good article.


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