Martin & Kent, L.L.C. Martin & Kent, L.L.C.

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The psychology of false confessions

Illinois residents may find it difficult to understand why people would ever confess their guilt to crimes that they did not commit. Media outlets frequently run stories about individuals who are proven innocent by new evidence and released from prison after spending decades behind bars, and many of these stories include details of confessions that were made willingly to law enforcement. A number of prominent psychologists have studied false confessions, and they say that they are often made due to emotional pressures and fears of the accused individual that are manipulated cleverly by the police officers involved.

The type of individuals who make false confessions often have limited intelligence and poor educations, and they are unlikely to be aware of the legal options available to them even after being given a Miranda warning. Police find it less challenging to secure a confession from this kind of suspect as they may not appreciate the full consequences of what they are saying. These individuals may also be laboring under the naive assumption that their innocence will ultimately protect them from prosecution and conviction.

However, even erudite and intelligent individuals can break down after hours of relentless pressure. Police often lie to or otherwise mislead suspects, and a tactic used by law enforcement known as the Reid Technique has been widely criticized. This approach involves aggressive and confrontational questioning that is designed to uncover inconsistencies in a suspect's story and break down the suspect's defenses during interrogations that often last for more than five hours.

Experienced defense attorneys will recommend that those questioned by the police in any criminal law matter invoke their right to remain silent and say nothing unless their lawyer is present. While research may show that confessions can often be unreliable, defense attorneys could point out that juries still find them extremely persuasive.

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