Do Innocent People Ever Confess to Crimes?

We’ve all heard of cases of wrongful conviction–of people being freed from prison years and sometimes decades after their trial. But, did you know that in 25% of cases cleared by DNA, the defendant made admissions of guilt?

Go to Jail.
Creative Commons License credit: Sam Hames

Why would someone admit to something they didn’t do—spending years behind bars for a crime they didn’t commit? There are numerous reasons that a man or woman suspected of a crime would admit to committing a horrible offense they may have had no part in.

According to the Innocence Project, some of these reasons include: intoxication, threats of harm, coercion, mental impairment, a misunderstanding, threat of lengthy prison terms, actual violence, and simply ignorance of the law. A recent article in the New York Times states that the young, the mentally ill, and the mentally impaired are the most likely to admit to something they didn’t actually do.

But some people state that police interrogators are so effective at getting people to admit, they often pull confessions from innocent people. After spending hours in an interrogation room with no sleep, you might be amazed of the things that would come out of someone’s mouth.

Professor Brandon L. Garrett from the Virginia School of Law states that many cases of false confessions are tainted by facts that police let leak during the interrogation process, allowing a completely innocent subject to confess in detail to a crime they didn’t commit.

In some cases, the confession is so believable that the suspect is convicted of a crime even when DNA proves otherwise before trial. One case, involving murder, caused an innocent man to serve 16 years in prison following a confession he made and later recanted. Though DNA evidence was present at trial to support his innocence, the jury chose instead to believe his initial confession.

Being investigated for a crime is extremely stressful. It seems that the more serious the charges are, the harder the police come down on you to confess. But during the questioning stages, the police must inform you of your right to an attorney. If you are not under arrest and that right is not explained to you, there’s a good chance the statement they are looking for is completely voluntary.

During interrogations following an arrest, you can stop answering questions at any time. You can invoke your right to an attorney and the police must respect this. As stated, ignorance of the law can lead to problems, and knowing your rights is imperative, so having a criminal defense lawyer can help insure that your rights and freedom are protected at every step in the process.

About David Matson