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Richard Ofshe (born in 1941) is a Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a member of the advisory board of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation advocacy organization,[1] and is known for his expert testimony relating to coercion in small groups, confessions, and interrogations.

False memories

His personal homepage at that institution lists his areas of interest to be coercive social control, social psychology, influence in police interrogation, and influence leading to pseudo-memory in psychotherapy. [2]

Ofshe has been characterized as a "world-renowned expert on influence interrogation"[3]. He believes that coerced confessional testimony is extremely unreliable, and stated in a Time Magazine article that "Recovered memory therapy will come to be recognized as the quackery of the 20th century."[4] In a more recent Time Magazine article in 2005, Ofshe is quoted as saying that false testimony does not just occur through coercion, but may also occur in instances of "exhaustion or mental impairment." However, he also stated that it is only recently that juries have been allowed to hear expert testimony about these kinds of theories[5]

John E. Reid and Associates has criticized Offshe and provides examples of cases in which Ofshe's expert witness testimony was either rejected, or had less-than positive outcomes at trial. Ofshe has been critiqued for using secondary sources instead of primary ones to promote the theory that more legal miscarriages of justice may exist than actually do.[6]


Early career

After completing his studies at Stanford, Ofshe joined the faculty at the University of California, Berkeley at the level of Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology in 1967. He was promoted to an Associate Professor in 1971 and Professor in 1982. [7]


Ofshe has received several honors and recognition for his research and writings[8][9][10]:

  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow, 1973-1974[11]
  • Recipient of Roy Dorcus Award for the Best Paper on Clinical Hypnosis of 1994. Awarded by the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis for "Recovered Memory Therapy and Robust Repression: Influence and Pseudomemories."[12]
  • For work on a series of articles that Ofshe contributed to on the Synanon movement, the newspaper, The Point Reyes Light, received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1979.[13]

Professional memberships

Warren Jeffs case

Ofshe appeared on CNN in 2006, discussing the Warren Jeffs case. He was asked to answer the question: "..what makes people give up control over their own lives and let a religious -- extreme religious leader like Warren Jeffs dictate essentially everything they do?.." Ofshe stated that Jeffs simply had to "maintain a belief that was already there", because he had inherited the fundamentalist Mormon group from his father. He stated that: "That gives him an enormous edge over someone who starts a cult group and has to get people to adopt a new ideology. He's already got a big chunk of it in place. And then what he does is build a community, build an organization that maximizes his power and he's done that as well."[14]

Expert testimony

In 2002, Ofshe appeared on the Larry King Live show, discussing the reliability of confessions. In 2005, the Associated Press characterized Ofshe as a "cult expert", when commenting on the murder trial of Marcus Wesson.[15] Ofshe’s testimony in court was found to lack credibility and he was accused by a court of attempting to blatantly coach a defendant and convince him that he was coerced psychologically. [16]

Tyrone Noling (2006)

Prosecutors in the case of Tyrone Noling, a man on waiting on death row for the murder of an elderly couple in Atwater Township, Ohio, relied heavily on confession testimony. In 2006, Ofshe asserted that this kind of testimony is not always reliable, and may not be true: "All the confessions should be classified as "untrustworthy" and "unreliable," said social psychologist Richard Ofshe, an expert in false confessions hired by Noling's appellate lawyers to review the men's statements." Ofshe stated that this was because "coercive interrogation tactics" were utilized by law enforcement to elicit these confessions.[17]

"The Norfolk Four" (2005)

In 1997, a young Navy wife, Michelle Moore-Bosko, was found murdered. Police were convinced that she was murdered and raped by eight men. Five men later confessed, but forensic DNA evidence was only found tying one to the crimes. The four other men who confessed all recanted their testimony but were convicted anyway. Three of the four are currently serving life sentences. Lawyers from the Innocence Project agreed to take the case. The lawyers hired Ofshe as an expert witness in false testimony, and he stated: "Four innocent servicemen are languishing in prison for no reason, other than expediency". In 2009, the men were granted conditional pardons by the Virginia governor, but are still seeking to have their convictions overturned.[18].

Marty Tankleff (2005)

In 2005, Ofshe appeared on CBS's 48 Hours, commenting on the Marty Tankleff case. He was helping to work on Tankleff's appeals process. The detectives had obtained a confession statement from Tankleff, but neglected to videotape it. Ofshe asserted that it was a false confession, and that if there had been a videotape, the court would have been able to witness the actual police interrogation methods used. "Ofshe believes that after being badgered for hours, Marty began to question his own memory -- and the police gave him a way out."[19]

Robert Burns Springsteen IV (2001)

In 2001, Judge Lynch "severely limited the testimony of defense expert witness Dr. Richard Ofshe", in the case of alleged murderer Robert Burns Springsteen IV. Springsteen had allegedly been involved in "notorious" murders in 1991. Ofshe asserted that there was the possibility of police coercion utlilized in the testimony confession. Judge Lynch stated that this was a judgement for the jury to make[20].

Paul Ingram (1996)

Ofshe was recruited by the investigators of the Paul Ingram case involving accusations of satanic ritual abuse. Ofshe concluded that Ingram was extremely suggestible, and produced detailed pseudomemories after intense questioning and prayer in which he attempted to visualize himself performing the acts he was accused of.[21] Ofshe published a journal article about the phenomenon,[22] though his conclusions and methods were criticized.[23] Ofshe also testified at Ingram's 1996 pardon hearing.

West Memphis 3 (1993)

Ofshe gave testimony in the case of the West Memphis 3, three boys tried and convicted for the murders of three children in the Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, Arkansas, United States during 1993. Damien Echols - the alleged ringleader - was sentenced to death. Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were sentenced to life in prison. The case has received considerable attention. Many critics charge that the arrests and convictions were a miscarriage of justice inspired by a misguided moral panic, and that the defendants were wrongfully convicted during a period of intense media scrutiny and so-called "satanic panic" of the 1980s and 90s.

During Jessie's trial, Ofshe testified that the brief recording was a "classic example" of police coercion.[24] Ofshe has described Misskelley's statement saying, "[It is] the stupidest fucking confession I've ever seen."[25]

Ofshe's affidavit asserting that Sikhism is a cult (1990)

In an affidavit signed on December 28, 1990, Ofshe asserted that "Based on my professional knowledge, on my previous study of the Sikh movement, on documents I have reviewed, and on interviews I have conducted with former members of the movement [I have reached the conclusion that], the Sikh movement in the United States exhibits characteristics common to cult organizations, including the use of intimidation and other forms of coercion to impose control and enforce norms within the group." [26]

DIMPAC task force

After the American Psychological Association's board of Social and Ethical Responsibility for Psychology (BSERP) rejected a report presented by the APA taskforce on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control, stating that it lacked the scientific rigor and an evenhanded critical approach for and the imprimatur of the APA, [27] Margaret Singer and Ofshe sued the APA in 1992 for "defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy". The case was dismissed by the court in 1994 on the basis that the claims of defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy constituted a dispute over the application of the First Amendment to a public debate over academic and professional matters; that the parties may be described as the opposing camps in a longstanding debate over certain theories in the field of psychology, and that the plaintiffs could not establish deceit with reference to representations made to other parties in the lawsuit. [28]

In a further ruling, James R. Lamden ordered Ofshe and Singer to pay $80,000 in attorneys' fees under California's SLAPP suit law, which penalizes those who harass others for exercising their First Amendment rights. At that time, Singer and Ofshe declared their intention to sue Michael Flomenhaft, the lawyer that represented them in the case, for malpractice.[29]



  • Utility and Choice in Social Interaction with co-author Lynne Ofshe
  • Intepersonal Behavior in Small Groups
  • The Light on Synanon - With co-authors David and Kathy Mitchell
  • Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, And Sexual Hysteria, with co-author Ethan Watters
  • Therapy's Delusions: The Myth of the Unconscious and the Exploitation of Today's Walking Worried, with co-author Ethan Watters


See also


  1. False Memory Syndrome Foundation official website, advisory board listing
  2. 2.0 2.1 Personal home page at Berkeley University
  3. Public Defender Awards, Florida Public Defender Association, Craig Stewart Barnard Award
  4. Lies of the Mind: Repressed-memory therapy is harming patients, devastating families and intensifying a backlash against mental-health practitioners, Time Magazine, Cover Story, Nov. 29, 1993, LEON JAROFF
    "Recovered-memory therapy will come to be recognized as the quackery of the 20th century," predicts Richard Ofshe, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley. And in the process, Emory University psychiatry professor George Ganaway fears, it may "trigger a backlash against ((legitimate charges of)) child abuse. As these stories are discredited, society may end up throwing the baby out with the bath water -- and the hard- earned credibility of the child-abuse-survivor movement will go down the drain."
  5. True Confessions?, Time Magazine, December 12, 2005.
    A 2002 study from Northwestern University showed that 59% of all miscarriages of justice in homicide investigations in Illinois--where a year later Governor George Ryan commuted all death sentences--involved false confessions. But despite such evidence, few confessions are ever thrown out. According to Richard J. Ofshe, a social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert in false confessions, only recently have juries been allowed to hear testimony about the phenomenon, which can occur as a result of coercion, exhaustion or mental impairment. The juries in the Norfolk trials were not among those. Many experts say the solution is to require police to videotape all interrogations and confessions of suspects in capital cases, as is the law in Minnesota, Illinois, Alaska and Maine.
  6. Cassell, P. (1999). "The Guilty and the “Innocent”: an Examination of Alleged Cases of Wrongful Conviction from False Confessions". Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy 22. doi:10.2139/ssrn.161470. ".".
  7. Department of Sociology, University of California Berkeley
  8. Curriculum Vitae
  9. Frank Fuster case, Ofshe testimony, affidavit, credentials, honors
    I hereby certify that the statements I have made herein are true and accurate to the best of my knowledge, information and belief. I am aware that if I have made any statement, knowing or believing it to be false, I am subject to the penalties of perjury.
  10. State of Florida vs. David Onstott, Circuit Court of Thirteenth Judicial District, CV attached as official part of court record.
  11. John Simon Guggenheim, Memorial Foundation Of Fellows Page.
    Richard J. Ofshe, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley: 1973.
  12. Berkeley Gazette, Roy Dorcus Award, Richard Ofshe.
  13. (pdf). 7. The American Sociologist - Footnotes. 1979-05-01. pp. 12. Retrieved 2008-04-22.
  14. Interview with Fredricka Whitfield, CNN, News Anchor, September 2, 2006.
    WHITFIELD: So what makes people give up control over their own lives and let a religious -- extreme religious leader like Warren Jeffs dictate essentially everything they do? And what does go through the minds of such leaders? For some answers, we turn to Richard Ofshe, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California Berkeley. Good to see you professor. RICHARD OFSHE, UC BERKELEY: Good morning. WHITFIELD: so, what is at the route of this power? How is it one man can convince not one but thousands of people that they have divine power? OFSHE: Well first of all, you have to recognize he didn't build this group, he inherited this group. WHITFIELD: From his father. OFSHE: From his father but also from the tradition of Mormonism. I mean, you have to go back and look at the fact that they think of themselves as the true Mormons, essentially, the fundamentalist Mormons. WHITFIELD: So he didn't have to do the job of convincing anyone. He just maintain a belief that was already there? OFSHE: That gives him an enormous edge over someone who starts a cult group and has to get people to adopt a new ideology. He's already got a big chunk of it in place. And then what he does is build a community, build an organization that maximizes his power and he's done that as well.
  15. Barbassa, J (2005-01-25). "Jury selection to begin in multiple murder and sexual abuse case". Associated Press.
  16. [Case No.: CRC99-18956CFANO Division: M - Nathan Brinkle - SPN: 01659274; Defendant. Order Denying Defendant's Motion to Suppress #3, Motion to Suppress #4, and Amended Motion to Suppress #4 (Heard February 14, 2002, April 18, 2002, and May 10, 2002)]
  17. Simakis, A. "Death row doubts Lies put man on death row, men say".
  18. Three Men to Seek Clemency in '97 Rape and Slaying in Norfolk, November 10, 2005, The Washington Post, Tom Jackman.
    "Four innocent servicemen are languishing in prison for no reason, other than expediency," said Richard J. Ofshe, a California sociologist and expert in false confessions. "If they were being held by a foreign government, we would send in the Army to get them out."
  19. Will New Evidence Give Marty Tankleff A Second Chance?, March 11, 2005, CBS, 48 Hours.
  20. Grounds for Appeal?, The Austin Chronicle, JUNE 15, 2001, BY JORDAN SMITH
    Judge Lynch also severely limited the testimony of defense expert witness Dr. Richard Ofshe, a social psychologist who specializes in police interrogation techniques and how they can create false confessions when used "improperly." Lynch said the judgment of whether Springsteen's confession was coerced was the jury's to make. However, Ofshe said he sought only to offer information that would help the jurors make their evaluation.
  21. Wright, L (1994). Remembering Satan: A case of recovered memory and the shattering of an American family. Knopf. pp. 134–146. ISBN 0679431551.
  22. Ofshe RJ (July 1992). "Inadvertent hypnosis during interrogation: false confession due to dissociative state; mis-identified multiple personality and the Satanic cult hypothesis". Int J Clin Exp Hypn 40 (3): 125–56. doi:10.1080/00207149208409653. PMID 1399152.
  23. Olio, K; Cornell W (1998). "The Facade of Scientific Documentation: A Case Study of Richard Ofshe's Analysis of the Paul Ingram Case". Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 4 (4): 1182–1197. doi:10.1037/1076-8971.4.4.1182.
  24. Steel, Fiona. "The West Memphis 3." Court TV. 17 Mar. 2006 Crime Library, Notorious Murders.
  25. Notable quotes, Ofshe, Re: Misskelley's 6.3.93 statement
  26. Affidavit of Richard Ofshe First Judicial District Court, County of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Mark Baker vs. Yogi Bhajan, et al., Case No. SF 88-2286 (C)
  27. APA Brief in the Molko Case, from CESNUR website, [APA later withdrew the organization from the brief], 1987
    [t]he methodology of Drs. Singer and Benson has been repudiated by the scientific community, that the hypotheses advanced by Singer were little more than uninformed speculation, based on skewed data and that "[t]he coercive persuasion theory ... is not a meaningful scientific concept.
  28. Case No. 730012-8, Margaret Singer, et al., Plaintiff v. American Psychological Association, et al., Defendants
    "This case, which involves claims of defamation, frauds, aiding and abetting and conspiracy, clearly constitutes a dispute over the application of the First Amendment to a public debate over matters both academic and professional. The disputant may fairly be described as the opposing camps in a longstanding debate over certain theories in the field of psychology. The speech of which the plaintiff's complain, which occurred in the context of prior litigation and allegedly involved the "fraudulent" addition of the names of certain defendants to documents filed in said prior litigation, would clearly have been protected as comment on a public issue whether or not the statements were made in the contest of legal briefs. The court need not consider whether the privilege of Civil Code 47 (b) extends to an alleged interloper in a legal proceeding. Plaintiffs have not presented sufficient evidence to establish any reasonable probability of success on any cause of action. In particular Plaintiffs cannot establish deceit with reference to representations made to other parties in the underlying lawsuit. Thus Defendants' Special Motions to Strike each of the causes at action asserted against them, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure 425.16 is granted."
  29. Allen. Charlotte, Brainwashed! Scholars of Cults Accuse Each Other of Bad Faith, December 1998. Available online

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