Criminality has always existed together with humanity. With the development of technology, new methods of proving someone guilty derived, DNA research for example. Yet, even after centuries, the confession is still considered as ‘the Queen of Evidence’.
Imagine a suspect being interrogated. There is a lot of evidence against him, and he seems nervous all the time. It is a powerful confirmation when that person, after having denied for hours, will confess the crime. But is a confession always that reliable? A recent study shows that around half of the confessions which eventually were proved to be false, had led to a conviction (Howitt, 2006). Not only does this mean that innocent people have been imprisoned, but also that the actual criminals are still on the loose.
Making false confessions can be the result of multiple reasons, but the most important ones for this essay are the coerced confessions. Coerced confessions can be divided in two subgroups: coerced-compliant false confessions and coerced-internalized false confessions. The first category is when one is under such pressure that he will do anything to get out of this stressful situation, even if this means that he has to confess something he didn’t do. This could be the case with physical torture, but it also occurs with just being under a lot of psychological pressure. The second possibility is that the suspect starts to believe the police who keep blaming the suspect without giving the chance to defend himself. Showing fabricated evidence is legal in some countries and this can make the suspect consider the fact that the police may be right and that he indeed did commit the crime, but he simply doesn’t remember it because of a blackout. From these two, making a coerced-compliant confession is more common: people tend to just accept an accusation rather than also believing they did something wrong (Klaver, Lee, & Rose, 2008).
Methods of interrogation
The idea of making a false confession on purpose in order to avoid the situation arises during the investigation. This means that the problem lies beneath the method of questioning, but also individual factors and the psychological condition of the suspect contribute to whether or not the person will make a false confession (Wright, 2007; Klaver, et al., 2008). For example the presentation of false evidence is a trigger for people with high suggestibility: the panic results in overthinking and this can eventually lead to a false confession (Costanzo, Krauss, & Pezdek, 2006). Anyone can become susceptible under the right conditions (Wright, 2007).
Multiple approaches for an interrogation are used by the police. First of all, there is the direct questioning. This one is simple: as the name reveals, it’s about asking direct questions towards the crime. A second method is the information-gathering approach: the suspect is given the chance to tell their side of the story, often open-ended questions are asked. The goal is truth seeking. There is also an accusatorial approach. This one differs a lot from the information-gathering approach because the police will try to manipulate the suspect and be very confrontational. Unlike the previous one, the interrogators try to obtain a confession and this is why they will be very confirmatory (Meissner et al., 2014). The focus lies furthermore on the looks of the suspect: the more nervous or anxious he looks, the guiltier he seems according to this method. According to the research results of Meissner et al. (2014), information-gathering is better at obtaining a confession compared with direct questioning, but that the accusatorial approach increases both true and false confessions.
Results of the experiments by Perillo and Kassin (2011) indicate that bluffing has the same effects as the presentation of false evidence. They also imply that these confessions made because of bluffing are not likely to be detected by the interrogators of judges.
The well-known ‘Reid technique’ is often used during an interrogation. It’s a method where the police will use false evidence and reduce the anxiety associated with confessing by misleading the individual and making him believe he will get mercy, even when it’s not directly promised. This is a minimization strategy. The essence of this technique is that the suspect will make a rational cost-benefit analysis. The problem comes forth when false evidence is shown: if the innocent suspect thinks he will be sentenced anyway, making a confession will seem to have a better outcome than denying it. This way he can maybe get a reduced sentence because he was cooperative during the process. We can assume that this is what Roman Zadorov did in the Tair Rada-case.
Klaver et al. (2008) conducted experiments about minimization and maximization strategies. Participants had the highest false confession rates in the condition where they got interrogated with minimization techniques and where the plausibility of the accusations was very high.
These researches prove the dangers of using some methods and that they deserve attention. An officer, a judge or a jury should always keep the possibility of a false confession in mind when making a decision. A solution to limit the effects could be using the minimization and maximization strategies mixed in the “good cop/bad cop” tactic. Different approaches to discover the truth should be used together instead of only using the Reid technique or the accusatorial approach, especially if the interrogated person is a minor or someone with mental issues. Also asking questions about concealed information is of great importance.
...(download the rest of the essay above)