Police Interrogation Techniques and False Confessions: Impact on Wrongful Convictions

Author: Elleri Vitwar
Major: Criminal Justice
Approved: Fall 2018
Status: Completed

A wrongful conviction sends an innocent person to jail, often for a long time, possibly for life. As set forth by the Innocence Project, there are different causes for a wrongful conviction, including: false confessions, government misconduct, eyewitness misidentification, improper or unvalidated forensic science, and informants. This current study focuses primarily on false confessions. First, the psychology of how a false confession can take place and the detrimental impact of specific police interrogation techniques on the outcome of an interrogation are presented. Second, additional interrogation techniques are included to better understand their impact on false confessions. Following a review of this research, the present study examines false confessions compared to other causes of wrongful conviction through an analysis of case studies amassed by the Innocence Project. Two sets of data are compiled and analyzed: cases where false confessions are listed as a cause and cases that do not list false confessions, and instead list one or more of the other four, as a cause for wrongful conviction. The analysis suggests that cases based on false confessions appear to be related to the following four factors: region of the United States in which the crime was committed; sentencing received by the defendant; type of crime committed; and age of the defendant at the time the crime was committed. On the other hand, false confessions were not found to be positively correlated to the following factors: year of conviction; time served between conviction and exoneration; demographics of the victim; or the gender and race of the defendant. In the future, studies should continue exploring the impacts that false confessions have on the outcome of cases, particularly their relationship to lengthier sentences.