False confessions: Issues during the interrogation process

Although a suspect may sign a confession, it does not always mean that he committed the crime to which he confessed. Many people may wonder why anyone would admit to committing a serious crime if they did not, in fact, commit that crime. Yet, people do it and, as a result, many of those people are convicted of he crime they admitted but did not commit.

According to the Innocence Project, more than 360 people (stated as over 375 people elsewhere on their website) were released from prison after DNA evidence proved their innocence. A surprising number of these cases involved false confessions. It is helpful to know how law enforcement officers obtain false confessions and what people can do to prevent it from happening.

How are false confessions obtained?

Law enforcement officers can use a number of tactics to gain confessions from suspects during the interrogation process, including the following:

  • Physical threats or use of force;
  • Telling the suspect there is incriminating evidence proving their guilt;
  • Threatening that if the suspect does not confess, they will have a harsher punishment; AND
  • Compromising the suspect’s mental state with hunger, sleep deprivation, stress and exhaustion.

In some cases, officers may use a suspect’s age or mental limitations against them. For example, a disabled or young suspect may not understand his right to remain silent and to request an attorney. Furthermore, when dealing with addicted suspects, police may occasionally withhold drugs and tell the suspect they will let them have their “fix” after they confess to the crime. Few truly addicted people can resist this sort of manipulation, as their physical needs override their reasoning and their ability to understand what they are doing when confessing falsely to a crime.

How can people prevent false confessions?

It is important that if you are under police investigation, you know your rights during the interrogation process. So, if you do find yourself under investigation, always remember that you have the right to remain silent and do not need to answer any questions from officers. You have the right to ask to have an attorney present before you answer questions. And if you do not have an attorney or cannot afford one, you can and usually should simply say that you want a lawyer and will not answer any questions about anything at all unless and until you have an attorney present. The police do not have to get you an attorney, but they do have to stop when you use those words to invoke your rights. Remember: it is a crime for you to lie to the police, but it is your right to remain silent. Refusing to answer questions can never be used against you if you end up facing charges. Lies will be used to convict you.

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