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Coercion by Authoritative Figures

Sometimes people confess to crimes that they have not committed. Discuss the factors that contribute to the likelihood that someone may confess falsely. 

It is normal to believe with confidence that an individual would never confess to a crime they aren’t guilty of. However false confessions are relatively common and often occur in the justice system. A false confession is an ‘admission to a criminal act usually acomplained by a narrative of how and why the crime occurred that the confessor did not commit’ (_______ reference from mariam). The reasoning behind false confessions is very broad with a range of underlying factors such as falibility of memories, interrogation and psychological tactics and vulnerable persons. The following research will discuss the reasoning behind why false confessions occur and why they are very common in the justice system.

A major cause of false confessions is due to coercion by authortive figures. According to Chapman’s study  40 to 76% of suspects in interrogations confess to a crime (Chapman, 2013). This is attained by authortive figures who use compliance through interrogations. There are two different types of false confessions: coerced or voluntary. Coerced false confessions happen when innocent suspects are interrogated and manipulated into confessing a crime they didn’t commit in order to escape a long dreadful process (Kassin et al, 2010). Authortive figures use psychological strategies to imply leniency, increase suspects anxiety, use fabricated evidence or even moral justification to reach confession (Kassin et al, 2010). These psychological tactics mislead vulnerable innocent individuals to confess out of fear to escape the environment they are in (Kassin et al 2010). Another factor that plays a role in coerced false confession is due to suspects stress, hunger, exhaustion, fear and lengthy interrogations (Neufeld & Scheck, 2022).  James Guildford’s case is an example of a long interrogation interview, Guildford was cross-examined for over forty-nine hours  in a small room by multiple detectives about his missing girlfriend. Guilford only had received a small sandwich in that time and did not sleep at all within the interrogations and had barely given any answers to the police force (O’Hara, 2012). Once the interrogations had stopped, Guildford had confessed to the murder of his girlfriend to his lawyer only eight hours later, he was found guilty but would not confess in the interrogation due to the pressure and strain.

Within the justice system achieving a confession, practically means any type of exculpatory evidence is diminished (Chapman, 2013). Confession has the upper hand to corrupt and crumble evidence meaning time is saved for both the courts and the ‘accused’. Thus, when the false confession is obtained by an innocent suspect their life is ruined and most likely are imprisoned for a crime they did not commit.

Again, authortive figures used trained techniques such as the Reid technique to harvest a confession (Gudjonsson, 2011). The Reid technique consists of three stages, factual analysis, interviewing and interrogation (Gudjonsson, 2011). When a suspect is put through all three stages, memory fallibility may occur within the suspect when being examined multiple different times resulting in the suspect being judged to be lying (Gudjonsson, 2011). These interrogation tactics include deprivation of freedom and liberty such as removing access to food, sleep, and bathroom time. Without doubt these tactics will eventually lead to exhaustion as mentioned above causing them to be vulnerable and having to confess without processing their thoughts properly. Gudjonsson also identified that 78% of confessions are achieved through the Reid technique and up to 22% are likely to be innocent (Gudjonsson, 2011). This proves that the authorities within the justice system can impact confession result of a suspect regardless of whether they are innocent or guilty.

Impact of Confessions within the Justice System

The fallibility of memory pertains to the false recollection of memory about a crime or a devastating incident. The expert research on the fallibility of memory and the implications of the eyewitness testimony is very important for the judges to make a complete decision. The testimony of the eyewitness can be an extremely important aspect in the conviction for the defendant or the revelation of a crime. The fallibility of memory and the interrogation and the psychological traits are all related when it comes to the judgment of crime and criminal acts. In the case of the fallibility of the eyewitness memory and testimony, the research has been done to develop ways in order to improve the recollections of the witness which led to the development of the cognitive thoughts (Neal, 2019). One major cause of the fallibility of memory and false confessions is the coercion of figures who hold authority and also the fear which is associated with the incident (Gudjonsson, 2018). Sometimes, the witness becomes extremely afraid of the crime or the incident which can make their memory foggy and this can cause falsifiability of memory for the eyewitness. Fake confessions are not very rare and there are more than a half of 365 people who have confessed to crimes that they might not have committed.  It is very easy for standard interrogation procedures to mix psychological stresses and  plans of escape  that can very cause an innocent individual to confess. Memories cannot be trusted especially during events pertaining to crimes. There is also the fact of memory blindness where someone who witnessed a crime is giving a certain piece of information that can be misheard by the investigator. Later on, the investigator can ask for the wrong information for clarification and the witness can agree to the false information due to the pressure of the situation. If the person is nervous and shocked by the crime then they can have false memories or can remember memories in the wrong way (Commane and Kopelman, 2022).

There are also the witnesses who can be from the vulnerable background or might be mentally ill and they might be coerced or threatened into admitting about a crime that they did not commit. While there is a high prevalence of victimization among the vulnerable and mentally ill people and it has been researched, there has been no study to date on official crime records of young people with mental illness. Young and vulnerable people who have a case with mental illness are generally vulnerable to acts of violence. While there is a very weak association between mental problems and victimization, there is still an overlap between the victim and offender situations. There are also aspects of the authorities or a person of power manipulating the vulnerable and the mentally ill individual into confessing a crime that they did not commit (Scherr, Normile, and Putney, 2018). Psychological strategies of pressurizing such as manipulation are reasons that a person with mental illness might confess to a crime they did not commit to. False confessions are significant to understand so that they can be prevented and true justice can be asked. As of 2005 almost 70 percent of youth who are associated in the criminal justice system have had a mental illness. Despite this fact, the statistics are over a decade old but the numbers cannot be ignored (Mogavero, 2020). Young people are more prone to false confessions and mental illness s one of the reasons for this. It is an additional variable that influences the false confession. according to Innocence Project, between 1989 and 2020, there has been 368 DNA exonerations and they had false confessions. The National Registry of Exonerations reported the mental illness of the youth who confessed falsely (Ivey, 2021). While a huge number of confessions are honest and accurate, people who are mentally ill and juveniles have to be considered more prone to false confessions than the other part of the confessions. Most of the interrogations have always crossed the proper limit of interrogation techniques through the usage of explicit pressures and threats as well as feeding crime facts to the suspects and coercive practices. This can lead to a false confession from an individual who is mentally ill. These tactics can coerce the person to confess to a crime they have not committed and there would not be any justice.

References

Chapman, F. E. (2013). Coerced Internalized False Confessions And Police Interrogations: The Power Of Coercion. Law & Psychology Review, 37159-192.

  • Coyle, I & Thomson, D 2014, ‘Opening up a Can of Worms: How Do Decision- Makers Decide When Witnesses are Telling the Truth?’, Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 475-491.
  • Gudjonsson, G. H., & Pearse, J. (2011). Suspect interviews and false confessions. Current Directions In Psychological Science, 20(1), 33-37. doi:10.1177/0963721410396824
  • Kassin, S., Drizin, S., Grisso, T., Gudjonsson, G., Leo, R., & Redlich, A. (2010). Police-induced confessions: Risk factors and recommendations. Law And Human Behavior, 34(1), 3-38. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10979-009-9188-6
  • Neufeld P & Scheck B 2022, False Confessions and Recordings of Custodial Interrogations, The Innocence Project, New York
  • O'Hara, J. (2012, June 30). DA says Syracuse police's 49-hour interrogation of murder suspect illustrates need for videotaping. Central NY Times. https://www.syracuse.com/news/2012/06/district_attorney_says_syracus.html
  • Commane, C. and Kopelman, M.D., 2022. Memory: what we think the psychiatrist should know in a forensic context. BJPsych Advances, 28(1), pp.21-32.
  • Gudjonsson, G.H., 2018. The psychology of false confessions: Forty years of science and practice. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Ivey, A., 2021. Attitudes and Beliefs of Social Work Students Surrounding False Confessions among Youth and the Mentally Ill(Doctoral dissertation, California State University, Sacramento).
  • Mogavero, M.C., 2020. An exploratory examination of intellectual disability and mental illness associated with alleged false confessions. Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 38(4), pp.299-316.
  • Neal, C., 2019. An evaluation of police interviewing methods: A psychological perspective.
  • Scherr, K.C., Normile, C.J. and Putney, H., 2018. Perpetually stigmatized: False confessions prompt underlying mechanisms that motivate negative perceptions of exonerees. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 24(3), p.341.
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