Coercive interview techniques and false confessions

| Jun 24, 2021 | Criminal Defense |

Louisiana residents may think that they would never confess to crimes that they did not commit, but this happens with worrying regularity. Data from the National Registry of Exonerations reveals that one in five of the people who have been released from prison after being exonerated made false confessions. While people sometimes confess to crimes that had nothing to do with because of mental health issues or a desire for notoriety, the vast majority of false confessions are coerced.

Coerced confessions

Coerced confessions are not admissible in court, but proving coercion can be difficult if police interviews are not recorded. There was a time when police officers would routinely use violence or intimidation to obtain a confession, but law enforcement has moved away from these tactics. Instead, police officers exert psychological pressure to get the results they want. This is often done by lying to suspects about evidence like eyewitness testimony.

When confronted with overwhelming evidence against them that would be hard to refute and they believe really exists, even an innocent person may consider confessing to a crime they did not commit if they believe that doing so will lead to a more lenient sentence. The courts are aware that this happens, but police officers are still allowed to lie during interviews.

Contamination

When police officers do not lie, they may phrase their questions in a way that makes the crime seem less serious or even understandable. They could also deliberately contaminate interviews by showing suspects photographs or sharing information that provides knowledge about a crime that an innocent person would not have. When a suspect has this knowledge, they are more likely to stumble during an interview and find themselves in a position where making a false confession appears to be their best option. Court records of cases involving innocent suspects who confessed after being subjected to psychological pressure reveal that criminal law judges do not consider these techniques coercive.

Asking for a lawyer

Police officers are required to inform suspects that they have the right to speak with an attorney before interviews begin. If you are ever questioned by law enforcement, an experienced criminal defense attorney would likely urge you to avail yourself of this right. An attorney could look out for coercive techniques and put an end to the interview when they notice them.