Why Innocent People Confess to Crimes They Haven’t Committed

There are a host of common misconceptions around the use of audio and video recording, many of which are finally being righted, as the recent policy shift handed down by the Feds is showing us. One of those misconceptions is that using ERI (electronic recording of interrogations) will cause criminals to confess less due to fears of their record being misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Yet, another even more problematic situation is that without audio and video recordings, the number of cases in which innocent people are confessing to crime is directly related to the number of cases in which the record wasn’t recorded electronically.

iRecord wants to identify some of the historical issues with confessions and why innocent people confess and ensure that nothing but truth separates you from the facts and the real value of using digital audio and video recording systems.

The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vo 5, Issue 3 Spring 2005 provides some of the most succinct and careful observations about closing criminal cases and ERI—electronic recording of custodial interviews, which we’ve highlighted from to make our case.

Since it’s perfectly lawful for police to use a mix of psychological techniques to get suspects to confess to crimes, some of these techniques draw question marks and concern, including:

  • Lying to suspects about incriminating evidence in police possession
  • Using rough language
  • Using aggressive and accusatory questioning
  • Isolating the suspect to create an environment conducive to extracting confessions

Some have argued that these tactics might lead a suspect to falsely confession in order to get out of a seemingly impossible situation, especially if they believe that they will be found guilty regardless of what they confess or don’t confess.

In fact, three types of “false confessions” have been identified and have been extracted from the journal below:

  1. Compliant false confessions occur when a suspect confesses in order to escape an aversive interrogation, avoid an explicit or implied threat, or gain a promised or implied reward.
  2. Internalized false confessions occur when an innocent suspect comes to believe she has committed the crime, often resulting from exhaustion and confusion in the wake of a lengthy interrogation.
  3. Voluntary false confessions are self-incriminating statements offered without any external pressure

So why is it that suspects confess to crimes they haven’t committed? Studies show that innocent people confess to crimes that the know they did not commit for the following reasons:

Innocence Works against Them: Plain and simply, their innocence works against them. “Innocent people are particularly likely to waive their right to counsel at the beginning of the interrogation,for fear of looking guilty, or because they feel they have nothing to hide,” Psychologist Saul Kassin reports.

Interrogation Techniques Scare them into a False Confession: Because of their vigorous denials, innocent suspects can unwittingly trigger highly confrontational interrogation techniques.


False Evidence increases Likelihood of False Confession: “False evidence against a suspect though a common and effective interrogation technique, increases the risk that innocent people confess to acts they did not commit.”

The Length of an Interrogation: “Laboratory tests have shown that fatigue, sleep deprivation, and isolation can influence and impair complex decision-making abilities.”

Your Demographic: If you are a juvenile, have a mental disabilities or are among what psychologist Peter Conti groups as members of a “population of people who are susceptible to an officer’s suggestions of culpability, such as suspects with poor memory, anxiety, low intelligence, and deflated self-esteem,” then you are more likely to confess to a crime you did not commit.

All this being said, the advent of digital audio and video recording equipment has changed the way confessions are elicited in many cases and certainly changes the focus of the interrogator or the investigator to paying attention to the line of questioning and his tactics as opposed to having to take notes and make sure that he or she gets everything down.

Look for more to come on how digital audio and video recording systems are actually reducing the number of false confessions and what other answers these tools deliver to officers and legal professionals around the country.

Let iRecord guide you in selecting your digital audio and video recording systems and equipment in the meantime and get on the right track. Keep more innocent people out of jail and close cases on the guilty more quickly. Learn how by contacting us today.

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