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False Confessions

Why innocent People Confess It could be argued that trickery and deception do not pose a serious problem during interrogation because only perpetrators confess. It is now clear, however, that innocent people sometimes confess to crimes they did not commit—the problem of false confessions.

As hard as it is to believe, a number of chilling instances illustrate the point—as in the Central Park jogger case, described earlier, in which five false confessions were taken in a single investigation. In fact, research shows that false confessions were present in more than 25% of all cases involving prisoners who were convicted and later proved innocent by DNA evidence. It’s important to realize that this sample represents just the tip of an iceberg. Although most case studies arise from the United States and England, proven false confessions have been documented in countries all over the world (Kassin et al., 2010). Indeed, to this day, 16-year-old Brendan Dassey of Making a Murderer (and others) remain in prison because of confessions they made under pressure and later withdrew.

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It seems unimaginable. Why would an innocent person ever confess to police to a crime he or she did not commit? There are two reasons—and two types of false confession. Sometimes innocent people under police interrogation agree to confess as an act of mere compliance—to escape a very stressful situation. Apply- ing basic decision-making psychology, Stephanie Madon and her colleagues note that human beings in general are influenced more by rewards and punishments

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