Whether you’re guilty or innocent, being arrested is terrifying. You’re handcuffed, accusations are flying, and while the police may have – certainly should have – read you your Miranda rights, it’s hard to exercise your “right to remain silent.” The impulse to speak under this pressure may be irresistible and what you say may not be reliable.
So what should you do if, under the pressure of arrest and interrogation, you give a false confession? It can be hard to extricate yourself from such a situation, but a wise lawyer can help.
False Confessions – More Common Than You Think
Most people think that they would never give a false confession, but false or incriminating statements play a role in a quarter of wrongful convictions – and this doesn’t include those whose false convictions are thrown out before they can be convicted. But why do people confess to crimes they didn’t commit?
In many cases, individuals fall prey to classic interrogation practices. For example, the “good cop/bad cop” routine commonly depicted in movies and TV shows is a real practice formally known as the Reid interrogation practice. In use since the 1940s, this practice operates using isolation and unpleasant lighting to increase the subject’s vulnerability to questioning.
Many police departments are phasing out the good cop/bad cop approach to interrogation precisely because it’s so likely to produce false confessions, but this alone won’t resolve a problem that regularly leads to improper convictions. Policing practices simply aren’t structured to get at the truth.
Vulnerable Defendants At Risk
Regardless of the approach to interrogation, certain defendants will always be more vulnerable to giving false confessions due to mental illness, neurological conditions, or low IQ. For example, individuals with anxiety disorders are more prone to giving false confessions because they seek to escape a stressful situation, while those with intellectual disabilities may be so suggestible as to believe that they really did commit the crime.
One situation that police need additional training to handle, both during arrest and in the interrogation phase, is the issue of dealing with people on the autism spectrum. One in 86 children today are on the autism spectrum and those children will grow up to be autistic adults. And at any age, autistic people are especially vulnerable to giving false confessions or responding poorly in confrontations.
Autistic individuals are arrested at an unusually high rate compared with their actual rate of criminal behavior specifically because unusual social responses can make them appear suspicious. Combine this with the unfamiliar situation of an arrest and the individual may not know what to say or how to respond. Since many autistic people rely on social scripts for communication, they may turn to echolalia or other vocal tics during interrogation and say things that seem to indicate agreement or admission of guilt.
Legal Approaches To False Confessions
If false confessions are so common, one would assume that lawyers are trained in how to respond to them, but it isn’t easy. That’s why many legal experts, such as law professor James Duane, say you should never talk to the police. You can’t say the wrong thing, can’t give in and make a false confession, if you just don’t talk.
Of course, the problem with this theory is that many people think that not talking makes them look more guilty than talking. They think it makes them look like they have something to hide. But as any lawyer will tell you, it just makes you look smart.
The best way for your lawyer to invalidate your confession is if the police didn’t read you your rights before interrogating you, but this is uncommon as most police will do so almost mechanically upon arrest. Still, be sure to mention this to your lawyer immediately upon attaining one if it’s the case – nothing you say before being read your rights can be used in court.
Outside of not being Mirandized, your lawyer is most likely to suggest your confession was coerced if they want to prove it’s false or at least inadmissible. In the past, this might mean that the police had used “the third degree,” essentially interrogation by torture. This includes extended isolation, threats to family, or application of physical pain.
If you are going to talk to police without the presence of a lawyer, look around to see if your interrogation is being filmed. Video of your interrogation can be a very valuable tool for your lawyer. Don’t speak to the police without a lawyer and additional documentation of your interactions with police.
Though harder to demonstrate, psychological assessment can help determine whether or not an interrogation was coerced. While such assessments may not allow your lawyer to throw our your confession, they can weight the evidence, allowing them to argue that contrary evidence proves you aren’t the guilty party.
Despite common beliefs to the contrary, polygraph exams are not admissible in court, which means if you confess based on a polygraph, because you believe it indicates you’re guilty, the polygraph can’t be used as evidence – but your confession can be. On the other hand, your lawyer can’t give you a polygraph to prove you didn’t commit the crime. This supposedly useful tool is actually utterly impotent in the courtroom.
In general, your lawyer needs the greatest amount of evidence possible to prove that you couldn’t have been involved in a crime – whether it’s a strong alibi, DNA proof, or several other pieces of evidence that place you far from the crime in question. Countering a confession requires a much higher burden of proof than simply proving innocence. That’s a problem for you.
Thought it’s possible to break down a false confession, you’ll need a great legal team on your side. That’s why if you or someone you know may have given a false confession, it’s time to get the law firm of Rowdy G. Williams on your side. Contact Rowdy G. Williams today for more information about beating a false confession and get the help you need.
When facing a false confession, only the best will do. Rowdy G. Williams will fight for you.