The idea that someone would confess to law enforcement officials and claim that they committed a crime that they had not seems ridiculous to many people. They cannot imagine why someone who knows they are innocent would make a statement to the contrary to the police while knowing full well that their efforts will likely lead to a criminal conviction.
However skeptical people may be about false confessions, they occur far more frequently than members of the general public tend to realize. Those who are under arrest and are facing accusations of serious criminal offenses sometimes confess to crimes they haven’t committed for a number of reasons.
Fear is often the underlying reason for a false confession
Most people recognize that if they make a confession because they committed a crime, they will face criminal charges and penalties. However, they may fear what will happen to them if they don’t make a confession.
Perhaps intimidating behavior by law enforcement officers has led them to fear for their safety, and they want to confess because they think it is the safest option. Other times, police officers may have lied to them, claiming there is evidence that doesn’t actually exist. The person under arrest may confess in part because police officers assure them that if they just admit they broke the law, the penalties they face will be lower than if they go to trial.
It is almost always fear of the possible charges or consequences that someone will face if they do not enter a guilty plea that leads to a false confession. However, there are cases in which fatigue and confusion may lead to a false confession, especially if someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or has gone many hours without sleep when police question them.
False confessions don’t automatically lead to a conviction
Although it may seem hopeless to fight back against charges if someone has already admitted they broke the law, there may still be options. A lawyer could potentially help someone explain the false confession to the courts and help build a defense strategy that could lead to their exoneration.
Even when someone has already made a mistake that will complicate their case, they can still seek legal guidance in order to build the strongest possible legal defense strategy moving forward. Raising questions about key evidence, including confessions, can often be an important part of a criminal defense strategy even when someone’s situation seems open and shut.