The Innocence Project reports that more than one out of four people who have been convicted of a crime and were later exonerated by DNA evidence made a false confession or an incriminating statement. It might be difficult to understand why someone would admit to a crime, but with a thorough understanding of the psychology of interrogation and social influence, it becomes easier to see how a false confession could happen.
Pressures of interrogation
When the police question a person in an interrogation room, the questions can come so fast at a suspect, that it can confuse that person. Even innocent people who know they are innocent just confess as a way of escaping the interrogation. A person might feel guilty about the role he or she played in an event, but false guilt does not always equal criminal guilt. There are many factors which could contribute to giving a false confession during an interrogation:
- Intoxication of the suspect
- Coercion by the interrogators
- Diminished capacity
- Ignorance of the law
- A fear of harm or violence during the questioning
- Threats of a harsh sentence
- Language barriers
Children are easy to manipulate and will say what they think a person wants to hear. Someone with a mental disability might not understand the situation. Even mentally capable, intelligent adults make false confessions when they are exhausted after a long interrogation. No one really understands the pressure of an interrogation until they are in that situation.
Preventing false confessions
The Department of Justice requires federal agencies to record all interrogations, and North Carolina is one of the 20 states which requires the recording of custodial interrogations. Although this is a proactive practice which does help innocent suspects, a person who is arrested should not try to go through the system alone. An attorney acts as an advocate to protect all the rights of the suspect.
Getting arrested is probably one of the biggest stressors in someone's life. Remember to stay calm and do not argue with the police officer. Do not lie, but do not give unnecessary information. Give your name and respond accurately without incriminating yourself. When you are arrested, you should be given a "Miranda" warning. You do have the right to contact an attorney and have one present when you talk to the interrogators.
Legal issues are very complex. Many people believe they would never make a false confession, but when they find themselves alone and tired in a police interrogation room, the pressures of the situation might be too much to bear.