Confessions Aren’t Always What They Seem

Whenever the media reports that someone allegedly confessed to something, people instantaneously assume that they’re guilty. Of course, this seems reasonable at first. Why would somebody say that they committed a crime unless they did?
As our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know, based on years of experience, confessions to crimes aren’t always what they seem. Unfortunately, they do have consequences; even if somebody later recants their confession, prosecutors use the fact that the suspect confessed as evidence of guilt.

The truth is that people often confess (or are coerced into confessing) due to circumstances beyond their immediate control, regardless of whether or not they committed the crime in question. For this reason, it’s vitally important that the general public, and especially the individuals who sit on juries during criminal trials, not confuse an alleged confession as an honest, clearheaded admission of guilt.

Our justice system is designed to punish people who have actually committed crimes, not just those who have said they committed a crime, because people say things for many reasons. The psychology behind the fact that suspects often confess to crimes that they didn’t commit is tetbook — literally.

In their textbook entitled “Psychology,” psychologists Henry Gleitman, James Gross and Daniel Reisberg note that many of the confessions, according to evidence from laboratories and court documents, are false, “meaning that people are admitting to actions they actually didn’t commit. In some cases, the false confessions are the product of mental illness … in other cases, false confessions are produced by the social situation that exists inside a police interrogation room.”

Let’s explore these two common issues that seriously hinder the reliability of confessions. First, it’s clear that individuals who suffer from mental illnesses perceive things differently from the way that the rest of us do; from hallucinations to faulty memories, individuals who suffer from mental illnesses have the tendancy to state that something happened when, in fact, it did not. Sometimes, as our criminal defense lawyers know all too well, this comes at a cost to themselves, when they admit to a having carried-out a crime that they did not commit.

As members of the Palm Beach and Broward County criminal justice system, us lawyers, and everyone else connected to the courts, have an obligation to investigate the validity of a confession. Convicting and sentencing to prison someone who admitted to a crime because of a mental disease is not justice.

As for the second issue brought up by the psychologists, let’s look at the pressure put on suspects in police interrogation rooms. Picture this — a suspect is dragged into an interrogation room, where an unpleasant police officer refuses to accept the suspect’s claims of innocence. Moreover, the police officer convinces (as he’s been trained to do) the suspect that there is a mountain of evidence against him, and that if the case goes to trial, he will be convicted and he will receive the maximum sentence. The suspect, sweltering under the sole light in the interrogation room, is told that his only chance at avoiding a long prison sentence is to confess to the crime and avoid the trial. What would you do? If you really thought that you would be found guilty, and you had the chance to cut your sentence down, wouldn’t you take it, if the police had convinced you so powerfully that your guilt was a foregone conclusion?

Forced confessions are an immoral yet ubiquitous part of the criminal justice system. Because they are so prevalent, it’s critical to treat every confession with suspicion, because you never know what was going through the person’s mind as they delivered a (perhaps false) confession.

If you’ve been arrested for or charged with a crime in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County, we’re here to help. Contact our criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert for a free consultation by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363). We look forward to assisting you.

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