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Roxana Saberi should be included in a model jury instruction

Happily, Roxana Saberi was released from custody in Iran. News reports are that she confessed to being a spy for the United States. To be clear, she reports that she was never tortured, but, understandably, found the experience very mentally challenging.


What’s remarkable is how easily people accept that she falsely confessed to being a spy. In almost every criminal case with a confession, the immediate knee-jerk reaction is that the person is guilty. Work can be done by a skilled lawyer to try to bring a jury to understand that, sometimes, people falsely confess, but it isn’t a given in any situation.

Neither Roxana Saberi and a person accused of a crime in the United States who has falsely confessed were tortured, and both gave their confessions under very difficult emotional and physical circumstances. There may be some differences in the stress Roxana Saberi and the U.S. suspect were facing, but I don’t think that explains why people react differently to the two.

What’s the difference between Roxana Saberi and the average criminal defendant?

If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges.

Part of it may be that average folks tend to think that the government of Iran is scarier than the police in, say, Prince Georges County Maryland. That may be right, but a perception that the Prince Georges County police have harmed more U.S. Citizens in the last decade than the government of Iran is perhaps not unreasonable either.

I suspect that the reason that Roxana Saberi’s false confession is viewed differently than the average person accused of a crime who has confessed is that people are already inclined to be sympathetic to Roxana Saberi (and, to be sure, she’s rightly sympathetic). Jurors, for the most part, without excellent work by defense counsel, do not see a person accused of a crime as sympathetic. And, for that reason, they aren’t willing to give the person the benefit of the doubt.

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