Signs of a False Confession…
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A false confession is an admission of guilt in which the confessor is not responsible for the crime. The Innocence Project states that “in about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.” They further state, “these cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences.”
There are three categories of false confessions:
· Voluntary false confessions are given freely. Sometimes they do so to cover for the person responsible, or to gain attention.
· Compliant false confessions are given to avoid stressful situations, avoid punishment, or gain an implied or promised reward. Sometimes people confess to escape what feels like a helpless situation.
· Internalized false confessions are those in which the person actually believes they committed the act.
The WZ non-confrontational method is updated regularly to address concerns of potential liability to clients. This includes training and education regarding the dangers of someone making a false confession. There must be standards set for interview and interrogation and for this reason the highest designation for interviewers, Certified Forensic Interviewer (CFI), has an entire module dedicated to understanding and preventing false confessions.
A false confession is my greatest concern as an interviewer. I can’t think of anything more devastating than ruining someone’s life. Every interviewer has a responsibility to safeguard against false confessions. There are several red flags consistent with false confessions and understanding these danger signs can help you avoid them.
1. Believing it Can’t Happen
As an instructor of interview and interrogation techniques, occasionally people say things that make me want to kick them out of the profession. One of those things is along the lines of, “I don’t believe people falsely confess. How could you believe someone would admit to something they didn’t do?” My response to them is generally, “Well, you mean besides all the proof that it happens?” DNA evidence has exonerated many wrongfully convicted and has proven false confessions exist. If you don’t believe it, you are in danger of obtaining a false confession.
2. Believing it Can’t Happen to You
How on earth could our intuition be wrong? How could our investigation be wrong? When we feel something is true, it’s hard to believe the opposite even when presented with evidence to the contrary. Do you think other people’s intuition is right all the time? If you don’t believe your intuition can be wrong, you are in danger of obtaining a false confession.
3. 100% Confession Rate
Just this year I had someone tell me they have a 100% confession rate. I’m fairly certain this individual was attempting to impress me and/or the class; however, it did the exact opposite. I was not impressed. I don’t care who you are, if you do this job long enough, chances are you will talk to an innocent person. If you believe everyone you talk to is guilty just because you think it, you are in danger of obtaining a false confession.
4. “If that’s what you want me to say, I’ll say it”
NO! The answer to that is “NO”! We want the truth. Don’t take this bait. You may be tempted to say “yes” to this question during an interview or interrogation. We want admissions, if they are true. We want rollovers, if they are true. We want restitution, for the true amount for which they are responsible. If you respond to this statement with “yes”, you are in danger of obtaining a false confession.
5. You Hear the Words, “I must be getting set up”
Dr. Richard Ofshe, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, Berkley, spoke to professional interviewers at the 2013 Elite Training Day and advised those attending of something he has heard in cases where people falsely confessed to crimes. Keep in mind the totality of the case, but if you hear the words, “I must be getting set up”, you could be in danger of obtaining a false confession.
6. False Evidence
While it is legal in this country to present false evidence, many company policies forbid it. False evidence can lead to a false confession. An individual’s perception of the strength of evidence that exists is what may get people to confess. If you present false evidence, you could be in danger of obtaining a false confession.
7. Promise Leniency
Those of us who work in the criminal justice system have a different perception and understanding of reality than people who only know what they see on TV. Someone with minimal experience with the criminal justice system may find an interview or interrogation intimidating. Unsure of how to handle the situation, they may rely on what they have seen on TV. When promised leniency, an individual may see this as their only way out. If you promise leniency, you are in danger of obtaining a false confession.
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