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False confessions often lead to wrongful conviction

In our post last week, we mentioned that the American public often has misperceptions about the criminal justice system due to what they see on television crime dramas. On TV, for instance, investigators use foolproof forensics tools and honed interrogation techniques to ensure that the guilty – and only the guilty – are convicted and put behind bars.

Unfortunately, real life isn’t nearly this tidy. Mistakes get made, forensics tools are not as accurate as people think and interrogations often go in surprising directions. In fact, a significant number of suspects are wrongfully convicted based on false confessions. Why would anyone confess to a crime they didn’t commit? The answers to that question are complex but very important.

The criminal defense advocacy group the Innocence Project has been working tirelessly to exonerate individuals who have been wrongfully convicted and wrongfully incarcerated. Of the hundreds of inmates who have been exonerated through DNA evidence, about 30 percent had been convicted because of false confessions, incriminating statements or pleading guilty.

The Innocence Project website lists a number of common reasons why suspects make such statements despite being innocent. Interrogation sessions can be long, grueling and very hostile. Some involve threats and intimidation bordering on or crossing the line into torture.

A natural human response to these stressors would be to comply just to end the interrogation. Therefore, suspects might eventually just start telling interrogators what they want to hear.

Some suspects are especially vulnerable to this kind of pressure: Juveniles, the intoxicated the mentally impaired, just to name a few. In the case of juveniles, most do not understand their rights and do not have the capacity to prioritize long-term safety (acquittal) over short-term gain (ending the interview).

The bottom line is that how a “confession” is obtained is as important as, or more important than, the confession itself. That’s why all suspects should have a criminal defense attorney by their side before agreeing to answer any questions.

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Meet Attorney Guillory

Attorney Joshua S. Guillory was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. Upon graduating high school from Alexandria Senior High, he enrolled in classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. Josh was a member of Mu Kappa Tau, a national honor society for marketing majors, while attending... Read More

Joshua S. Guillory

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