False ConfessionsAuthor: Portner & Shure
Confessions can be very powerful in a criminal case. A confession usually leads to the end of an investigation and no other leads in an investigation are pursued. A problem that sometimes occurs in criminal cases is false confessions. Why are false confessions given? What are the options for a defendant who has given a false confession?
False confessions are more common than many people realize. A study was conducted of defendants who had been exonerated with DNA evidence. Of those who were studied, one fourth had given false confessions. Why would an innocent person choose to confess to a crime they had not committed?
Some of those who give false confessions are those who are easily misled by police interrogations, those with cognitive limitations, or those who are young and inexperienced. Children are often raised to trust and obey authority figures, and when they are told by the police to make a confession, they do.
Sometimes, false confessions are given because defendants are victims of improper police interrogations. Sometimes police use overly aggressive interrogation techniques, such as using physical threats against the defendant. Defendants are usually interrogated for many long hours, so they become worn and defeated. They are often threatened with harsh punishments such as life in prison or even the death penalty. When faced with these possibilities, and told that a confession would ensure that a lesser punishment will be given, giving a false confession can be very tempting.
A technique that is often used by police is the "Reid technique." This technique elicits a confession because the suspect believes that the confession will provide short-term benefits. The interrogator uses techniques that block the suspect's attempts to deny committing the crime. After this, the suspect is led to believe that confessing is the best option for him.
The confessions that defendants give are often very detailed and through. This is the byproduct of the interrogation. Innocent suspects begin to learn details of the crime through police questioning. Details are often exposed using the Reid technique, such as showing photographs or exposing other details discovered through the investigation.
When there is a case against the police who interrogated the defendant, an attorney must be very careful and detailed in their investigation. It is important to closely scrutinize the type of information the police had at the time of the confession to see if the defendant has given any new information they didn't already have. Furthermore, if the false confession was given by a juvenile, there are guidelines that police must follow found in the International Association of Chiefs of Police. These guidelines can determine if the defendant had been improperly interrogated, causing a false confession to be given.