INNOCENCE: Prevalent Causes of False Confessions

A recent article in the New York Times discussed the most common reasons why suspects under interrogation confess to crimes they did not commit. The article, adapted from “Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America,” a forthcoming book written by David Shipler, observed an overrepresentation of children, the mentally ill, those with intellectual disabilities, and those who are drunk or high among suspects who made confessions that were later proven false. Shipler concludes, “They are susceptible to suggestion, eager to please authority figures, disconnected from reality or unable to defer gratification. Children often think, as Felix did, that they will be jailed if they keep up their denials and will get to go home if they go along with interrogators. Mature adults of normal intelligence have also confessed falsely after being manipulated.” Shipler also pointed out that interrogators are trained in various techniques to induce suspects to waive constitutional rights and to get suspects talking. He writes, “Officers are taught to use all the tricks and lies that courts permit within the scope of the Fifth Amendment’s shield against self-incrimination.” According to the Innocence Project, false confessions are among the most prevalent causes of wrongful convictions. False confessions played significant roles in roughly 24% of approximately 289 convictions later reversed by DNA evidence, among which were cases that would have resulted in execution.

(D. Shipler, “Why Do Innocent People Confess?” The New York Times, February 23, 2012). See Innocence.