You may have heard of defendants who confess to committing a criminal act only later to claim the confession was false. Many people react skeptically. Why would an innocent person ever admit to unlawful behavior? However, there have been numerous cases where DNA and other solid evidence backed up the defendant’s false confession claim. There may be several reasons why a defendant might admit to something he or she did not do.
One type of false confession can happen when police officers or prosecutors use carrot-and-stick techniques to get a confession. This typically happens if law enforcement agents strongly believe in a suspect’s actual guilt. Of course, like all people, police officers can make mistakes and become convinced of something that is not solidly supported by evidence. However, once they believe the suspect is guilty, they have more incentive to step up the pressure.
In most cases, the pressure will not take the form of physical abuse. Instead, agents and prosecutors may threaten to increase the severity of the charges or demand the maximum sentence. On the other hand, they may also promise leniency, such as the opportunity for a plea bargain in exchange for a confession.
A defendant who faces this pressure understands that continued assertions of innocence will not be believed. Even if you did not do anything, you may think that because these officers are so convinced of your guilt, the jury will be as well. Even with a potentially positive outcome, you may start thinking the trial is likely to be painful and complicated. Taking the deal may seem like the best way out.
Confusion and other points of vulnerability
Other defendants may confess without even meaning to. Intentionally or not, law enforcement agents interrogating a suspect sometimes use confusing or even misleading phrasing when asking questions. This can cause a suspect to think he or she is admitting to something different than he or she really is.
Suspects who have no previous experience with being caught up in an investigation can be particularly likely to make a false confession. Another trap suspects fall into is suggestibility or a strong desire to agree with authority figures. Even your physical condition at the time of questioning can affect the likelihood of you agreeing to incriminate yourself. Even if you are a highly educated professional, an investigation of a complicated regulatory or white-collar matter can be confusing to the point where you may intentionally incriminate yourself.
For these reasons, if you become aware you are the subject of an investigation by law enforcement or a regulatory body of authority, it is important that you speak with an attorney right away before you make any statements to an investigator. Having an experienced lawyer by your side is important to obtaining an optimal resolution.