We know that eyewitness testimony can frequently be flawed, but what about confessions? False confessions of crimes are far more common than one might think, and there are an assortment of reasons why people admit to crimes they didn’t commit — what takes place in those police interrogation rooms is often very strange. New York Magazine investigates:
In the criminal-justice system, nothing is more powerful than a confession. Decades of research on jury verdicts has demonstrated that no other form of evidence—not eyewitnesses, not a video record of the crime, not even DNA—is as convincing to a jury as a defendant who says “I did it.” The police, of course, understand the power of confessions and rely on interrogation techniques to produce them quickly so they can clear their cases.
In recent years, the use of DNA evidence has allowed experts to identify false confessions in unprecedented and disturbing numbers. In the past two decades, researchers have documented some 250 instances of false confessions, many resulting in life sentences and at least four in wrongful executions. Of the 259 DNA exonerations tracked by a major advocacy group, 63 of them—or one out of every four—was found to have involved a false confession. Counting just the homicide cases, the proportion shoots up to 58 percent of all exonerations.