The thread on a related post is getting too interesting not to make it a main post and invite some new comments. The issue is the truth of confessions -- especially those that have been filmed by interrogators (either as required by law or in an effort to be prudent). How do we judge the truth of these filmed confessions? Is self-representation inherently problematic, as one commenter (visitor Corey Rayburn to this blog) suggested? Does the performative impulse in people inevitably emerge when placed in front of a camera to "tell their story"? If so, how does this performance alter how we assess the voluntary, truthfulness or accuracy of the statement? (None of these questions address the many other issues involved in judging the filmed confession, such as how the film frame affects the interpretation of the coercive atmosphere in the interrogation room.)
I am in the process of trying to collect films of confessions for a longer project. As part of that project, I just watched the film "Confession of Bernard Goetz," a fascinating documentary with footage of Goetz's confession, the juror's reactions and commentary from lawyers of the men Goetz shot. What struck me was how performed was Goetz's recounting of the shooting to the NH US Attorneys. He was so obviously and self-consciously telling a story about himself that he wanted to be the truth about him and the state of New York City life. (Does this self-consciousness counsel against the "truth" of the matter or in favor?) And an interesting outcome (although painful to this viewer) was that the jury both believed him -- he was reasonably frightened such that shooting the four men was self-defense -- and didn't believe him -- they disregarded as embellishment or delusion that he returned to shoot for a second time one of the men saying "You look alright. Here's another." Had the jury believed this last statement, his self-defense claim would have been significantly weakened. But by allowing that the confession was both "honest" and "deluded," they could acquit him.
What does this say about the "truth" of self-representation on film, one of those places in law (confession evidence) where film is considered paramount and indisputable form of evidence? And do we consider the jury's assessment in this case particularly sophisticated in that they recognized that self-representation can be both true and not true, but this "mixed genre" did not taint their judgment? Would this be because trials and testimony are always performances, forms of "fiction" -- compiled and put together narratives for the jury to judge? Or, is the jury's consideration of the "mixed genre" (a "autobiofilm based on a true story"?) problematic because the result in this case -- the acquittal of Bernard Goetz on all murder-related charges -- smacks of injustice and racism?
(For a wonderfully insightful and impressively interdisciplinary book on the nature of confessions, although not specifically about the subgenre of filmed confessions, see Troubling Confessions: Speaking Guilt in Law and Literature, by co-blogger Peter Brooks.)