Thousands of people across the United States are in prison due to wrongful convictions. Many of these wrongful conviction cases are due to false confessions. It can be difficult to understand why someone would confess to a crime they did not commit, especially crimes like murder or sexual assault. However, there are a variety of reasons for false confessions, some of which include coercion, fear, or compromised reasoning skills.
The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (JAAPL) describes a false confession as “an admission (‘I did it’) plus a postadmission narrative (a detailed description of how and why the crime occurred) of a crime that the confessor did not commit.” JAAPL shows that are four ways to prove that a confession is false:
- When it can be established that the subject confessed to a crime that didn’t happen, like when a presumed murder victim is found alive
- When it can be established that the subject couldn’t have committed the crime because it was impossible for them to have done so, like if they were in another state at the time of the crime
- When the true perpetrator is identified and their guilt is objectively established
- When scientific evidence exonerates the subject, like DNA evidence
Statistics on false confessions
Police-induced confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions in the United States. The advocacy group FalseConfessions.org offers a host of statistics:
- False confessions appear primarily in high-profile crimes, like homicides and felonies
- Over two-thirds of DNA-cleared homicide cases from the Innocence Project were caused by false confessions
- 92% of false confessors are men
- 18 of the 258 people exonerated by DNA served time on death row
- False confessions are the leading cause of wrongful convictions for homicide
- 63% of false confessors are under the age of 25
What would make an innocent person confess to a crime they did not commit?
Causes of false confessions
The Innocence Project points out that many false confessions occur during custodial interrogations. According to their research, some of the factors that lead to people making false confessions include:
- Intimidation from police, real or perceived
- Use of force during interrogation, or perceived threat of force
- Compromised reasoning ability of suspect (exhaustion, stress, hunger, substance abuse, limited mental capacity, or limited education)
- Juveniles who do not understand their rights
- Juveniles attempting to please authority figures
- “Devious interrogation techniques” like false or leading statements about incriminating evidence against the suspect
- Suspect’s belief that confession will lead to a lesser punishment
It is important to remember that in Texas, authorities are required to record all custodial interrogations of individuals suspected of any state or federal crime committed in the state of Texas.
Even more important to remember – if you are arrested and charged with a crime, do not speak to anyone without an attorney present. Criminal defense attorney Mary Beth Harrell can protect your rights and ensure you do not incriminate yourself. Call our law firm as soon as possible at 254-680-4655 or visit our contact page. We proudly serve clients from our offices in Killeen and Copperas Cove.
I’ve dedicated my legal career to defending my clients. I demand all the evidence. I investigate all the facts, the so-called witnesses and even the police officers. I make it my business to know the law. Cases can be won or lost before you even set foot inside the courtroom.
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