Many of the same police interrogation trainers also are called in by companies who investigate thefts. It is also often standard practice for these interrogators to use lie detector tests to induce confessions. Not surprisingly, when such tactics are used in internal investigations (where the stakes are arguably lower, the due process protections are significantly less and the ground rules for investigators are even more nebulous than they are for police officers), false confessions are a problem. Many companies who have coerced proven false confession employees have had to pay out sizeable civil judgments to employees, including big punitive damage awards. The latest such case to hit my radar screen is a $7.5 million dollar judgment from a San Diego jury against Autozone, a Memphis, TN based car rental company. For more information, see the blurb below:
A San Diego County jury hit a Memphis, Tenn.-based auto parts chain with $7.5 million in punitive damages in a case brought by a former employee in its Chula Vista store alleging false imprisonment, coerced confession and wrongful termination.
Joaquin Robles claimed a security guard coerced him into confessing that he stole $820, costing him his job. In a 2002 trial, Robles was awarded $73,150 in compensatory damages and, against the security guard only, $5,000 in punitives because the judge ruled the security guard's level of discretionary authority didn't rise to the level of management agent. Robles appealed and a three-judge panel agreed a jury should decide on punitives against AutoZone. On April 13, the jury found they were warranted because AutoZone had a policy authorizing coercive interrogation tactics.
Case: Robles v. AutoZone, GIS6945
Court: San Diego County Superior Court, San Diego
Researchers, wrongful conviction lawyers, and criminal defense lawyers might learn something by studying some of these verdicts. It hardly seems fair that a man who loses his job and $73,000 in back pay gets $7.5M while Earl Washington, who lost 18 years of his life, received only $2.5M. There may be obvious differences in the law which account for this (as well as the fact that many law enforcement officers and prosecutors are deemed immune from civil liability) but perhaps the laws may need to be changed to make it recovering from state investigators who coerce false confessions as easy as it is to recover in the private context.