It may be difficult to understand why a person would confess to something they did not do; however, false confessions are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions and are present in 25 percent of overturned convictions.
False confessions result from coercive police interrogation techniques. Some techniques include confusing the defendant, lying to the defendant about evidence, threatening the defendant with lengthy prison sentences, and physically or mentally exhausting the defendant.
Juveniles under 14, people with mental illnesses, and people with low IQs are more likely to admit guilt when they are innocent, but it could happen to anyone under the right circumstances.
Additionally, the longer the interrogation, the more likely someone is to falsely confess. In fact, 84% of false confessions occur after more than six hours of questioning.
False testimony by witnesses other than the defendant is also problematic. Similarly to coerced confessions, people may lie about witnessing a crime because of coercion. They may have been threatened by law enforcement or offered something in exchange for lying. It is not uncommon for prosecutors to offer leniency to someone involved in a crime in exchange for testifying against another person.
Witnesses also lie for their own reasons. They may be seeking revenge, attempting to protect themselves if they did something illegal, or protecting a vulnerable friend or family member. There is a myriad of reasons why people lie during a criminal investigation or trial, but the end result is always the same: it perpetuates wrongful convictions.
How can we stop law enforcement from coercing false information?
All interrogations should be recorded. Without a recording of the entire interrogation, there is no way to determine whether a defendant was coerced. Also, coercive techniques—like lying about evidence—should be banned, and there should be time limitations for questioning the same person in one sitting.