How could someone confess to a crime one didn’t commit?
Many of the nation’s more than 360 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence involved some form of a false confession. It can be difficult to understand why a person would wrongly confess to a crime they did not commit. Researchers who study this phenomenon have determined that the following factors contribute to or cause false confessions:
- Real or perceived intimidation of the suspect by law enforcement
- Use of force by law enforcement during the interrogation, or perceived threat of force
- Compromised reasoning ability of the suspect, due to exhaustion, stress, hunger, substance use, and, in some cases, mental limitations, or limited education. Young people who do not understand their rights and are taught to please authority figures are particularly vulnerable.
- Devious interrogation techniques, such as untrue statements about the presence of incriminating evidence
- Fear, on the part of the suspect, that failure to confess will yield a harsher punishment
Recording interrogations prevents false confessions from leading to wrongful convictions
The entire interrogation – during the time in which a reasonable person in the subject’s position would consider himself to be in custody and a law enforcement officer’s questioning is likely to elicit incriminating responses – should be electronically recorded. States should enact statutes or court rules that require custodial interrogations for at least the most serious crimes to be recorded in their entirety. This will improve transparency and create an indisputable account of what happened during the interrogation — which benefits the entire system.
Benefits to the Innocent:
- Creating a record of the entire interrogation, including the interaction leading up to the confession
- Ensuring that the suspect’s rights are protected in the interrogation process
- Creating a deterrent against improper or coercive techniques that might be employed absent the presence of a recording device
- Alerting investigators, prosecutors, judges and juries if the suspect has mental limitations or other vulnerabilities that make him or her more susceptible to a false confession
Benefits to Law Enforcement: