Do Innocent People Ever Confess to Crimes?

by dave on September 17, 2010

in Criminal Justice

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.


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  • Tracy

    Well I’ve been charged with possession of ru

  • Tracy

    Sorry, and possession of controlled substance. I was at a hotel with another person when the police came in stating they had been informed of drug activity from a traffic stop in which a person was charged with possession of 8 grams controlled substance, paraphernalia, and 2 concealed weapons. What was found in our room was a glass pipe with residue. This happened in Feb. We are still in process of everything. My public defender has been changed 3 times, the person with me was the one that brought the pipe yet has Not admitted so. Therefore we are at a point to where we either go to trial or I accept a plea where I agree to say that I’m guilty of both possession charges and agree to 1 year, not for sure but hopefully will be probation, but the real issue is I feel I am being persuaded to say I am guilty to something that I am not guilty of just so I won’t be possibly sentenced to 3 years jail if I were to be determined guilty by a jury.

  • admin

    Thanks for sharing your unfortunate experience, Tracy.
    That’s another aspect of this that our article didn’t address.
    Though it isn’t exactly the same as a confession during interrogation, people absolutely do plead guilty to criminal charges in court when they don’t honestly think they’ve done anything wrong or are guilty of the charges.
    As you clearly expressed, pleading guilty and accepting a criminal conviction on your record is sometimes preferable to the risk that you could be convicted and face a serious, life altering sentence that could include significant jail time.
    Also, in drunk driving cases, people often plead guilty for practical reasons. In almost every case, your driver’s license is immediately suspended just for being arrested, before any case against you is proven in court.
    Though they may not have been really impaired, and breath test evidence may be faulty or non-existent, people will plead guilty just to get their driver’s licenses back and move on with their lives.
    Especially for people who simply can’t live or keep their job without being able to drive to work. They can’t afford to wait until their case is fairly addressed in court.

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