Because most criminal convictions have serious consequences, prosecutors must prove a person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. While there are a variety of ways to do so, a defendant’s confession is strong evidence of guilt. Not all confessions are reliable, though.
False confessions are probably more common than most people think. In fact, subsequent evidence has exonerated hundreds of individuals who had previously confessed to crimes. While untrue confessions happen for many reasons, three common situations often induce individuals to accept responsibility for crimes they did not commit.
1. Scare tactics
Police officers receive extensive training on how to investigate crimes and interrogate people. Therefore, while detectives are usually pros, people generally have little experience going through questioning. Regardless, witness interrogations are inherently stressful events that often require them to sit in confined spaces and answer tough questions. During police questioning, an officer may employ scare tactics that make the process even more intimidating. For example, an officer may threaten to arrest a loved one for the crime.
2. False information
Urban legend dictates that detectives may not lie during an investigation. That simply is not true, however. On the contrary, detectives regularly mislead individuals during interrogations. To procure a confession, they may even make up evidence that simply does not exist. People usually have no opportunity to investigate whether an officer’s statements are true or false.
3. Meaningless promises
Police questioners investigate criminal matters and draw conclusions. They do not prosecute criminal cases. Nonetheless, an officer may tell someone that confessing to a crime may result in lesser charges or lenient punishments, even if he or she has little or no control over those matters.
Police officers are good at securing confessions, regardless of whether the target of the investigation committed the crime. Sadly, though, if someone confesses to an offense he or she did not commit, prosecutors are likely to use the confession to secure a life-altering criminal conviction.