When someone confesses to a crime, can we be sure the person really did it? If you think that the answer is "yes, of course," the statistics on false confessions may shock you. A study by The Innocence Project on DNA exoneration cases - an organization that uses DNA testing on inmates who were convicted of crimes before such testing was widely available - found that in one out of four cases where defendants incriminated themselves, confessed or pled guilty to a crime, DNA testing proved they did not actually commit the crime.
What accounts for this startling number of false confessions? A number of factors play into a suspect claiming responsibility for a crime he or she didn't commit. A suspect might not understand the situation or might think he or she will be free leave the prison after confessing and fight the charges later. A suspect's mental state at the time of the confession is often the first place to look to understand the reason for the false confession.
Police interrogators use different techniques to obtain confessions. They may play good cop-bad cop. They may offer sympathy for the predicament that the suspect is in. They may claim to offer lenient sentencing in return for a confession. They may try to convince the suspect that there is a lot of evidence against them so they might as well confess. Interrogations often go on for many hours. The suspect may be deprived of food and sleep. After a while, the suspect may get worn down and begin to feel like the only way to end the interrogation is to just confess.
Some suspects are more susceptible to falsely confess than others. Some people - especially children - feel compelled to agree with authority figures. People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or an anxiety disorder are more likely to make a false confession. People with low IQs or under the influence of drugs may also be more vulnerable. But fully functional, intelligent adults make false confessions too.
If you have confessed to a crime you did not commit, it is not necessarily the end of the case - you still have rights and options. Contact an attorney experienced in cases involving false confessions to know your rights.