False Confessions

The idea of someone confessing to a crime they did not commit may seem hard to believe. Most people think that an innocent person would not confess to a crime they did not commit. However, about 25% of those exonerated by DNA made incriminating statements, gave false confessions, or took guilty pleas.

The reasons for false confessions range from incompetence to coercion. Those with mental disabilities are especially susceptible to suggestion and, wishing to please, have a relatively high rate of false confession. In addition, interrogation tactics long taught in criminal justice academies can sometimes put even the most stable innocent person at risk of confessing. Threats of the death penalty or of bringing legal charges against a loved one can prove too much to withstand. Other troublesome tactics include the subtle feeding of crime-related details to an innocent suspect and suggesting that others’ statements or even physical evidence point to a person’s involvement in the crime. Additionally, hours of interrogation when the defendant is exhausted, confused, and scared can cause the innocent to confess.


Videotaping interrogations creates a real-time record of the interview process that captures the tone and nature of the interview, the physical condition of the suspect, the origination of factual details relating to the crime, the setting of the interview, and other details that can aid law enforcement in the investigation of the crime and aid the jury in evaluating the reliability of a confession. Uninterrupted recording of interrogations from the time of Miranda through the completion of the interview is being conducted by over six hundred law enforcement departments in the United States. Each of those departments now recognizes the benefits of recording to solving crime and raising public and jury confidence. You can read North Carolina’s law requiring recording of interrogations in homicide cases here.