False Confessions

The Facts
In more than 25% of exonerated cases, defendants made incriminating statements or gave outright confessions to crimes that DNA evidence proves they did not in fact commit. These statistics show that sometimes, external forces are at work to influence defendants to confess to crimes for which they are actually innocent.

During police investigations, there are many reasons why defendants give false confessions:

  • Duress
  • Coercion
  • Intoxication
  • Diminished Capacity
  • Mental Impairment
  • Ignorance of the Law
  • Fear of Violence
  • Infliction of Harm by Interrogator
  • Threat of Harsh Sentence
  • Misunderstanding of Situation

Mental State of Confessor

  • Juvenile confessions are often unreliable, because children can be easily manipulated or do not fully understand the situation. Both juveniles and adults think that they can go home if they just confess.
  • People with disabilities are likely to give a false confession, because they are tempted to accommodate and respect authority. In addition, most interrogators are not specially trained to question people who are mental disabled, which can lead to false confessions. Impaired mental states resulting from alcohol or drug use are also causes of false confessions.
  • The length of interrogation or exhaustion can also cause people to falsely confess. Some also believe that they can confess now and go home and worry about proving their actual innocence later.

From Threats to Torture

Sometimes, law enforcement officers use harsh tactics to coerce confessions. Other times, police are so certain of the suspect’s guilt that they will use persuasive techniques that compel the innocent person to confess. Some confess to avoid physical harm, others are persuaded to confess by being told by law enforcement that they will be convicted either way, but a confession could make their sentence more lenient. Still others are told that a confession is the only way they can avoid the death penalty.

For confessions to be more reliable, one possible remedy would be to make it mandatory for all interrogations to be electronically recorded (audio and video). Several states already require that interrogations be electronically recorded. It has decreased the number of false confessions and increased the reliability of confessions as evidence.



Courtesy of Innocence Project of Minnesota (©2007)