The state of Illinois was once called the “false confession capital of the United States,” according to the Innocence Project. It was after many false confessions came to light in high-profile exoneration cases.
“In Illinois alone, there have been 100 wrongful convictions predicated on false confessions, including 31 involving people under 18 years of age,” said a spokesperson for the Illinois Innocence Project.
False confessions happen all too often. When people are exonerated using DNA evidence, we often look back at their cases to see what went wrong. In about 30% of all DNA exonerations, the defendant made a false confession. That’s a third of the time.
What causes false confessions?
Fear, in a lot of cases. People are given limited information about their cases. The police sometimes lie, especially telling people that they have incriminating evidence. Prosecutors threaten much longer sentences should they be convicted at trial than if they take a plea bargain. Many people are held in jail until their trial dates, and that can ruin their lives.
When it comes down to it, it sometimes seems as if pleading guilty is a better deal. It means you don’t have to deal with this arrest anymore. It gets you out of jail.
When a person is in this situation, full of fear, they can be prone to irrational decisions. When interrogators promise leniency, say that they can help, or say they have incontrovertible evidence, people sometimes agree to make a false confession. This is particularly true among juveniles.
That’s why Illinois passed a new law that bans deceptive interrogation of minors by police. It officially goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2022, but law enforcement in Illinois would be wise to reconsider their use of deception as a tactic now.
It leads to false confessions. False confessions lead to wrongful convictions. Wrongful convictions give a false sense of closure. They often let the real perpetrator go free.
Other states, including Oregon and New York, are also in the process of banning deceptive interrogation tactics. New York’s bill would ban their use in all cases and proposes a court review of every recorded confession to determine if it was coerced.
Wisconsin should be next.