False Confessions: Causes, Consequences & Implications

Instructor: Janell Blanco

Janell has an MBA, a Master's in Education, and a BS in Public Safety Management.

This lesson will discuss false confessions. We will discuss the causes of false confessions and the consequences and implications of false confessions.

False Confession Defined

Shane was at his grandma's house helping her plant flowers when the police officers pulled up. They asked to speak to him because they wanted to know where he was last night.

Shane has a history of breaking and entering into homes and stealing items. Shane has not broken into a home for several years. He went back to school and has quit his wild ways. Even though Shane hasn't committed a crime in several years, the police are still skeptical. There was a home just around the corner from Shane's grandma's that had been broken into, and they had a feeling Shane was responsible.

Shane tells the officers he was at his sister's school watching her in the play at the time the crime occurred. The officers still do not believe Shane, so they take him to the station and put him into an interrogation room and continue asking him where he was. Finally, Shane says 'OK. I did it.' Even though he did not commit the crime and has a solid alibi, he confessed to the crime.

What did Shane just do? He confessed to a crime he did not commit. This is known as a false confession because he admitted to a crime he did not commit or was not responsible for. Why did Shane make a false confession?

False Confession Causes

There are several causes for a false confession and often times there is no specific reason a false confession occurs.

  • Misclassification

With Shane, the false confession was a result of a misclassification error. The police department had already believed that Shane was guilty because he has a criminal record for breaking and entering.

  • Coercion

Coercion can be psychological in which the police officers make the individual feel they have no other choice but to confess to the crime. Shane may have felt like he had no other choice because they were interrogating him and holding him at the police station.

Coercion is also used when the police officers deny the individual food or water or even subject them to extreme heat or exhaustion to coerce them to confess. Coercion is said to be the main cause for an individual to make a false confession.

  • Contamination

Often times, during a false confession, there is contamination. Contamination occurs when the officers provide the individual with just enough evidence to get them to create a story about the crime. The story after the false confession is the post-admission narrative. Individuals who give false confessions construct these stories using the information that the police officers have given them, which is contamination.

We know what a false confession is, and we know the causes of false confessions. What are the consequences and implications of false confessions?

Consequences and Implications

You may be thinking false confessions are really not a big deal. So what happens when someone confesses to a crime they didn't commit?

There are several consequences and implications, such as emotional distress to the victim and the individual that has confessed. The individual that falsely confessed may not realize what they have done either. The implications of their false confession can lead to a multitude of problems for the police department, prosecutors, and the community.

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