False Confessions Are Wrung From The Mentally Impaired

By Theresa Torricellas, JD Correspondent

Justice:Denied magazine, Issue 27, Winter 2005, page 17

Minors and the mentally impaired are more prone to making false confessions and incriminating admissions to police, even though the able-minded can make false admissions during interrogations as a result of psychological pressure by police, according to experts and their studies. Professors Steven Drizin and Richard Leo reviewed cases of 125 person who were exonerated after making a false confession, and found that 32% were minors, which 22% were mentally retarded.

Law Professor Morgan Cloud co-wrote a study which found that even the mildly retarded are often incapable of understanding a police Miranda warning about their right to remain silent and to consult with a lawyer. Cloud found “They are more likely to go along, agree and comply with authority figures – to say what police want them to say – than the general population.”

According to the Innocence Project at Cardozo University, 25% of the people exonerated by DNA evidence through 2003 had falsely confessed or made incriminating admissions. “False confessions are not an anomaly,” said Professor Leo, “they happen with regularity.” Coercive police interrogations are the main reason an innocent falsely confesses to a crime, according to Richard Ofshe, a UC Berkeley sociologist who has reviewed 700-1,000 confessions.

The likelihood of being convicted multiply once a suspect has made an incriminating statement that is admitted into evidence at trial. According to Drizin, “Jurors simply cant’ get over their reluctance to believe that anybody would confess to a crime they didn’t commit, especially murder.”

Experts believe that requiring police to tape or video record all suspect interviews from the very beginning, including Miranda warnings, would help ensure confessions and admissions are truthful. “Tape recording will prevent police from doing the extraordinary things that need to be done to cause an innocent person to confess,” said Ofshe, who believes that video or voice recording would reduce false confessions by as much as 90%. Two states, Alaska and Minnesota, already require such recordings.

Source: Telling Police What They Want to Hear, Even If It’s False, Maura Dolan and Evelyn Larrubia, Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2004.