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Articles by Joseph Buckley

Mental Illness and False Confessions: A Wakeup Call to Investigators

by Joseph P. Buckley, The Crime Report

In the 1967 edition of their book, Criminal Interrogation and Confessions, John Reid and Fred Inbau expressed concern about the possibility of false confessions from individuals with a “mental illness.”

Over a half-century later, there’s still reason to be concerned.

The knowledge that potentially false confessions may occur as the result of coercive behavior, such as threats and promises, has been known to investigators for many decades. Undoubtedly the awareness heightened with the development of DNA exonerations.

According to the Innocence Project, between 1989 and 2020 there have been 367 DNA exonerations, of which approximately 100 cases (28 percent) involved false confessions.

In almost half of these cases the subjects were under 18 years old or mentally impaired at the time of their arrest.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, of the exonerees with reported mental illness or intellectual disability, 72 percent had confessed. Some 40 percent of the exonerees who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime falsely confessed.

While the overwhelming majority of confessions are true and accurate, individuals who are mentally impaired and juveniles should clearly be considered more susceptible to false confessions than ...



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