While it sounds illogical, many people do confess to crimes they did not commit. According to data from the National Registry of Exonerations reported by The Appeal, about 20% of exonerated individuals reportedly made a false confession resulting in a conviction.
Review the basic facts about false confessions to understand how and why this issue occurs.
Types of false confessions
Researchers have identified three main types of false confessions:
- Voluntary, in which the person gives a confession he or she knows is untrue
- Coerced-internalized, in which a vulnerable person falsely confesses after a misleading or suggestive interrogation
- Coerced-compliant, in which the person falsely confesses for an expected or implied benefit, such as the ability to end the interrogation
The National Registry of Exonerations reports that nearly 350 people have received exonerations after coerced confessions.
Awareness of coercion tactics
While a defendant who made a false confession can move to have the statement invalidated, the court must approve this motion. Generally, the defendant must show that the confession involved physical coercion, such as violence or sleep deprivation, or certain types of mental coercion, such as threatening physical violence, threatening a death sentence or promising rewards for a confession.
Outside of these illegal coercive acts, police may use other interrogation tactics that lead to a false confession. They can legally lie to suspects about the facts of the case, the charges or the potential penalties of a conviction. They can also introduce false memories, “contaminating” a person’s story by showing crime scene photos or evidence.
Understanding these widespread strategies can help protect a suspect’s rights in a criminal interrogation.