Fear or intimidation leading to a false confession
When a person is accused of committing a crime, and, particularly, a violent or serious crime, one can not underestimate the normal human reaction to such an accusation. For instance, a person who has not had much interaction with the law may be scared or intimidated by the questions and behaviour. Similarly, a person who has had multiple run-ins and other negative experiences with the police may react in a distrustful and even fearful manner. At other times, a person accused of such a crime may have been threatened by the actual perpetrator(s) of the crime, and therefore believes that telling the truth will only result in harm or violence to him and/or his family. As a result of these quite normal human emotions, people sometimes confess, and thus are convicted of, crimes that they simply did not commit.
Impairments resulting in false confessions
Another class of people who are particularly prone to making false confessions includes juveniles, mentally impaired people, and people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. All of these types of people are more vulnerable to suggestions by in terms of confessing to crimes that they did not commit. For instance, children and people with mental impairments tend to regard police officers as people with authority, and therefore may give answers that they think will please or agree with their interrogators, even if they are not truthful. Likewise, confessions from these types of people tend to be unreliable due to the inherent risk of manipulation by police and even other adults in general. For instance, children may believe that they can see their parents or go home, if only they tell the police what they want to hear.
Ignorance and false confessions
Some people who are wrongfully accused of crimes are simply ignorant of the law and their rights. A person may think that if they confess to the crime, then he will receive a lighter sentence. A person may believe that he will be allowed to leave if he just admits to some involvement in the crime. Although police are required to advise suspects of their rights at certain points, this doesn’t always happen as it should, nor do suspects always understand their legal rights, even if they receive them. As a result, some people falsely confess to crimes out of sheer ignorance.
At Stephensons we have successfully appealed a number of convictions of false confessions, including:
- R v Steele – Murder conviction based on confession quashed on appeal following referral by the CCRC.
- R v Kiszco – Convicted after falsely admitting to a crime that he did not commit, the false confession was made under duress.
- R v Flanagan (2005) EWCA Crim 2286 - murder false confessions – psychological issues.