Suspects should not be deprived of sleep

Besides knowing that the police can detain a person for 48 hours for investigation, it is also important to know what rights an accused person has with regard to sufficient rest during the period of interrogation ("S'poreans need to know their legal rights"; last Thursday).

In a recent study, reported in the Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences, it was found that it was easy to extract false confessions from people simply by keeping them awake.

Researchers at Michigan State University designed a study where student subjects had to fill questionnaires and solve problems on the computer. They were warned against pressing the "escape" key. The computer recorded all their key strokes.

At the end, the students were split into two groups, with one group getting a full night's sleep and the other forced to stay awake all night.

The next morning, when accused of the "crime" of pressing the "escape" key, half of the sleep-deprived subjects confessed, even though they had not done so.

More confessed when asked a second time.

In contrast, only 18 per cent of the well-rested subjects confessed the first time.

However, more of these subjects also confessed when asked a second time, showing that even clear-headed people can be fooled into making a false confession.

In the United States, false confessions are believed to make up a quarter of wrongful convictions, according to campaign group Innocence Project.

In many cases, the suspects were profoundly sleep-deprived during the police interviews.

I hope this does not happen in Singapore.

What guidelines do the Singapore police follow with regard to the number of hours that a suspect is entitled to sleep during investigations and interviews?

Maria Loh Mun Foong (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2016, with the headline 'Suspects should not be deprived of sleep'. Print Edition | Subscribe