More often than many realize, innocent people falsely confess to crimes they did not commit, according to a recent review in the Chicago Tribune. For example, Kevin Fox, was accused of sexually assaulting and murdering his 3-year-old daughter in Illinois. He confessed to the crime after spending 14 hours in interrogation, during which police ignored his requests for a lawyer and told him that they would arrange for inmates to rape him in jail. Fox was later released after DNA evidence excluded him as a suspect, and another man was subsequently charged with the crime. Saul Kassin, psychology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, explained the pressures that could lead to this happening, “The interrogation itself is stressful enough to get innocent people to confess. But add to that a layer of grief and shock and perhaps even some guilt — ‘I should have been there’ — and then that the parent is trying like hell to be cooperative because they want the murder of their child solved.” Trauma, lack of sleep and highly manipulative interrogation techniques can cause false confessions to even the most heinous crimes, including ones carrying the death penalty. Experts believe that false confessions account for an estimated 25% of wrongful convictions. “We know that for certain kinds of people, particularly those with mental illness and mental deficiencies, but other people as well, the psychological intensity of an interrogation can prove absolutely as torturous as physical pain,” said Lawrence Marshall, a Stanford University law professor who co-founded Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions.

(L. Black and S. Mills, “What causes people to give false confessions?” Chicago Tribune, July 11, 2010). See also Innocence and Causes of Wrongful Convictions.