Effect of Wrongful Confessions
While it is good that innocent people were eventually freed, this event often occurred after the defendant had spent years or decades incarcerated. While law enforcement officers may convince a person that if he or she confesses to the crime that he or she is accused of that the law enforcement officer may let the defendant go, a confession usually results in the individual being arrested. From there, he or she is thrust into criminal proceedings. Things can quickly spiral out of control and no one may believe the defendant’s later proclamation that he or she is really innocent. Sometimes it is simply too late after a confession to back pedal. Law enforcement officers may honestly believe that the defendant is guilty because he or she has confessed and may look no further for the real perpetrator of the crime. There is no way of knowing how many people behind bars are really innocent even though they confessed to a crime.
Reasons for False Confessions
The conditions involved in interrogating suspects may result in false confessions. Law enforcement officers often use influential interrogation techniques that may intimidate suspects to say what they believe law enforcement wants to hear even if these statements are not true.
Many interrogations are often physically and emotionally exhausting. At the end of such experiences, often suspects simply want to return home. In one recent exoneration case, the female suspect was denied food and water during the 27-hour long interrogation. She was also verbally threatened and physically pushed. Ultimately, she confessed to the murder of her son.
In a documentary series, a young suspect with a low IQ was continuously promised that he would be able to go home if he just admitted to what police said they already knew. He changed his version of events until detectives were satisfied with it. In the summer of 2016, his confession was thrown out as being involuntary.
Regulation of Interrogation Methods
Law enforcement officers have a lot of leeway when it comes to their interrogation techniques. They are constitutionally allowed to lie to suspects. However, the high number of exonerations that were caused by false confessions suggests that interrogation techniques must be carefully scrutinized. Law enforcement officers should not engage in inhumane treatment such as prohibiting a suspect to eat, drink water or use the facilities for hours on end. Additionally, law enforcement officers should not try to physically intimidate suspects or physically assault them.
To avoid the possibility of receiving false confessions, many police departments institute special training programs that teach law enforcement officers how to properly conduct interrogations without stepping over legal bounds.
Individuals may have a difficult time believing that someone may confess to a crime that he or she did not commit. However, many of these same people have never been under the pressure and scrutiny of a police interrogation. When facing a police interrogation, it is important that the defendant seek immediate legal assistance to protect his or her rights and to avoid making a false confession. It is far easier not to say anything than to say the wrong thing and then try to recant later on.