Dr. Gisli Gudjonsson is a professor of forensic psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry at Kings College in London. He has recently published a study that demonstrates that almost 20% of criminals that have been convicted were convicted through a false confession given during their interrogations by investigators.
Research has found that in the United States voluntary false confessions are much higher than previously thought. These confessions are being proven incorrect through DNA evidence.
One of my guilty pleasures is watching “Cold Case Files.” On this program, cold cases are often solved with the use of DNA evidence. Other “real” crime shows often tell stories of how many people have spent years/decades in prisons for crimes they did not commit. Most of these innocent people were convicted before the advances that have been made in DNA over the last two decades. Fortunately for those who are lucky enough to have their case re-opened, the justice sytem has done an amazing job of preserving evidence.
Factors that play into the occurrence of false confessions include a pathological need for attention that many repeat offenders have. Providing a confession for a crime that in many cases is of higher profile than the actual act can illicit a bigger response from law enforcement and the press. Combining this low self esteem and need for attention with law enforcement pressure during interrogation could potentially result in higher rates of false confessions.
Other research links the pathological need for attention with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Dr. Gudjonsson also states, “It is a myth that only people with mental illness or learning disabilities make false confessions to serious crimes. Interrogators do on occasion elicit false confessions to serious crimes from normal individuals. Greater awareness and improved police interview training are important in reducing the risk of police-induced false confession.”
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