The disturbing and common problem of false confessions

Would you ever confess to a crime you didn’t commit? Most of us would emphatically say “no.” But don’t be so sure. False confessions are far more common than you might think, and they often have devastating consequences.

In recent decades, the Innocence Project has helped exonerate more than 365 wrongfully convicted people in the United States and have studied the factors that led to the erroneous convictions. In about 25 percent of those cases, the convictions were based primarily or largely on false confessions.

Why would someone falsely confess to a crime? A growing body of research is examining this issue, and many reasons have been identified. They include:

  • Suspects may be worn out and confused after 18 hours or more of intense questioning
  • Suspects are minors (or have the mental capacity of children) and are unaware of their rights
  • Suspects know they are innocent and assume that evidence will later clear them, so they confess to put an end to the interrogation
  • Police lie to suspects (which is legal), claiming that they have evidence/witnesses to prove the suspects’ guilt
  • Police interrogators are trained on what’s known as the “Reid technique,” which many psychologists say uses manipulation, intimidation and deception to coerce confessions (rather than simply obtain the truth)

Unsurprisingly, many people who falsely confess recant their confession a short time later. But by then, it may be too late. News of a confession can change the trajectory of the case, causing witnesses to change their stories, influencing jurors about a suspect’s guilt, even leading investigators to ignore evidence that contradicts the confession.

The scary truth is that all of us are susceptible to psychological pressure, intimidation and mistakes made during times of stress. This is especially true with young people, whose brains and personalities are still developing.

If you or your child have been accused of a serious crime, please do not face the police alone. Immediately after being arrested or detained, you can and should demand to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney before answering any other questions. Your freedom and your future may just depend on it.

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