A suspect’s confession can be the linchpin that seals their guilty verdict. But, even when someone confesses, it doesn’t always mean they are guilty. Innocent people can confess to a crime they didn’t commit, but how does this happen and why? Here are some possible explanations for why false confessions happen.
Feeling the pressure
Interrogations can last for hours and suspects are often confined to a room and unable to leave. They may feel intimidated or exhausted and think that if they confess that they will be able to leave and fight for their innocence later.
An innocent person may falsely confess because they have a mental disability. They may think that by agreeing with the investigators and telling them what they want to hear they can go home. Because many law enforcement officers do not receive training on how to interrogate suspects with mental disabilities, their confessions can be unreliable and even inaccurate.
Threatened to talk
Investigators employ specific tactics to elicit confessions from suspects. An officer can lie or trick a suspect into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit. The accused can be told that someone has already identified them as the perpetrator or that DNA has linked them to the crime scene. The suspect could even be promised a reduced sentence, which can be a contributing factor to a false confession.
Unaware of their rights
When investigators come knocking, the suspect may be unaware of or misunderstand their rights during an investigation. They may feel as if they have no choice but to talk to investigators.
Under the influence
Intoxication and impairment can easily lead to a false confession. Impaired judgment can lead to self-incrimination.
First appearances aren’t always what they seem to be and the truth can be hidden behind a false confession. Gaius Julius Phaedrus, a Roman poet and author of Aesop’s fables, once said, “Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden.”
One or a combination of all of these factors can result in even an innocent person being put behind bars because of what they say. But even if an innocent person is incarcerated, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will stay there. Convictions obtained through false confessions can be challenged by an experienced attorney and potentially be overturned.