In the realm of criminal justice, its seems that no evidence is stronger than a confession of guilt. Suspects confess, and jurors believe them, because no one would admit to a heinous crime that they didn’t commit. Or would they?
Sadly, false confessions are a serious problem in the United States, and more common than most people realize. They are even the subject of a new book called “Duped,” released in the spring of 2022. The author, who is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is clear about his conclusion: “This can happen to anyone. This can happen to you.”
Why do people give false confessions?
Police interrogations are often messy, to put it mildly. Suspects may be grilled for hours at time, often without an attorney there to represent them. Authorities are allowed to lie about evidence and use other deceitful tactics. Here are some common reasons why people have given false confessions, according to the book and separate research by the Innocence Project:
- They knew they were innocent and trusted that the evidence would later prove it
- Interrogators lied about the existence of highly incriminating evidence and suspects began to doubt their own memories
- They were young (sometimes children), and confessed because authority figures were telling them to do so
- They were told (or suspected) that they would be convicted either way, and that confessing to the crime would at least result in a lighter sentence
- They feared for their physical safety in the interrogation room and confessed simply to stop the interview
- They were exhausted after being interrogated for hours without a break, food or water
Authorities are not allowed to use torture, violence or coercion to extract confessions. But many of the tactics described above could arguably be called coercive.
You should always have a lawyer by your side
As we have said in previous blog posts, you should not allow yourself to be interrogated by law enforcement without having a defense attorney by your side. Asking for a lawyer isn’t a sign of guilt or unwillingness to cooperate. Instead, it shows that you understand the stakes of what is happening and want to ensure that your rights are protected. A defense lawyer is the only person in the room who has your best interests in mind.