What you need to know about false and coerced confessions

It may seem absolutely incomprehensible why suspects would admit to a crime they did not commit, especially considering the lifelong consequences a conviction and prison sentence would have on their lives. However, false confessions are not a rare circumstance and have reasonable explanations for their occurrence. Understanding how a false confession happens can help you avoid admitting to a crime of which you are not guilty.

What is the definition of a false or coerced confession?

The most obvious form of these confessions is when a person makes a statement of guilt that is not true. However, they can also include authorities misinterpreting a statement as a confession or claiming the existence of a statement despite denials from the suspect.

How do they happen?

Although you may not believe you would ever declare guilt when you are innocent, it can very well happen under the high-pressure circumstances of an interrogation. When law officers keep someone in a room for long hours, sometimes days, asking question after question, the person may do whatever it takes to end the situation.

He or she most likely is physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. This weakened state increases the likelihood of a false confession and can even lead to personal belief of guilt. Intimidating and manipulative interrogation methods, both legal and illegal, also raise the chances of a coerced confession. Examples of such methods include the following:

  • Threatening or inflicting harm
  • Insisting the person is guilty
  • Offering a more lenient sentence
  • Lying about evidence
  • Exaggerating the consequences of not confessing or of receiving a conviction
  • Telling the person he or she failed the polygraph test

False confessions occur even more for people who are mentally disabled, intoxicated or underage. Unfamiliarity with the law or misunderstanding legal proceedings compounds the problem. Furthermore, confessions tend to hold substantial weight to a jury, even when other evidence implies innocence, resulting in a wrongful conviction.

What are prevention methods?

Unfortunately, Texas has a high rate of wrongful convictions, to which coerced confessions contribute. Currently, there is no state law that requires video recording interrogations. Doing so would make it easier to review police tactics and suspect statements to ensure the validity of an admission of guilt.

Additional possible reforms include establishing a time limit on interrogations, banning lie-detection technology and holding pretrial reliability hearings for confessions. The best thing you can do on your own is hire a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Having information and guidance from an experienced lawyer can give you the tools yo u need to avoid making a false or coerced confession.