False confessions pose a serious threat for the accused in California

False confessions occur more frequently than many people realize, and they can have incredibly harmful ramifications for the accused.

For many people in Hayward, it is challenging to imagine facing wrongful criminal accusations. It may be even harder to think of giving a false confession in response to such unfounded charges. Unfortunately, research shows that these confessions are a common cause of wrongful convictions. False confessions can happen even when people are accused of crimes with grave consequences, such as homicide or attempted murder, sex crimes and other violent crimes. Therefore, false confessions represent an important risk for anyone accused of a crime in California to appreciate.

Why do false confessions occur?

The Innocence Project explains that false confessions occur when accused individuals think that giving a confession is the most advantageous option. This may occur for various reasons, including the following:

  • Mental impairment. People who are fatigued or intoxicated are often at greater risk for making false confessions, as are people with mental disabilities.
  • Lack of knowledge. People may also give false confessions because they don't understand their rights, their options or the overall situation.
  • Fear. People who have been threatened with adverse outcomes, from physical punishment to harsher sentencing, may give false confessions.
  • Age. Juveniles may be more prone to false confessions because they can be shortsighted and easily manipulated.

One disturbing study conducted earlier this year suggests that police interrogation techniques may even cause some wrongly accused people to form false memories. According to The Toronto Star, during this study, researchers interviewed 70 college students and asked them to recall an assault or violent crime that they had never really committed. The researchers insisted that the incident was real and used poor memory retrieval techniques, such as encouraging the students to visualize what may have happened.

Although the crime was fictional, over 70 percent of the students remembered committing it by the end of three 45-minute sessions. Some students maintained that the memory was real even after the researchers told them otherwise. This result suggests that, after undergoing custodial interrogations, some innocent people may give false confessions while believing that they are truly guilty.

How common are false confessions?

The overall rate of false confessions isn't known, since many of these confessions may go undetected. However, the Innocence Project states that 25 percent of convictions overturned based on DNA evidence have involved false confessions. Here in California, false confessions played a role in the convictions of seven people who were later exonerated because of DNA evidence, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.

Can false confessions be challenged?

An article published in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law notes that false confessions often have lasting damaging effects. A confession is one of the strongest possible forms of evidence against a person. Therefore, once a false confession is elicited, authorities and jury members often become convinced that a person is guilty and view all other evidence with bias. For instance, they may dismiss evidence of a person's innocence or give more credence to weak evidence of guilt.

For this reason, it is critical for people wrongly accused of crimes to avoid giving false confessions in the first place. To this end, anyone facing criminal charges in California may benefit from consulting with an attorney. An attorney may be able to help a person understand his or her rights and identify a legal strategy that does not involve giving a false confession.