Coerced confessions: One way wrongful convictions happen

by Lisa D’Souza

It seems impossible to imagine confessing to a serious crime that you know you did not commit.  That’s why confessions make such great evidence.  Juries almost always believe them.  And yet, false confessions happen.  They usually happen in serious felony cases; 80% of coerced confessions uncovered in one study were obtained in murder investigations.  A significant number of the convictions overturned by DNA evidence were based on coerced confessions.  Others remain in jail on cases in which DNA evidence exonerates them but based on their confession judges and prosecutors refuse to consider the conviction wrongful.

Young people or people with mental retardation are more susceptible to making a false confessions.  Another study found that 63% of false confessors were under the age of 25, and 32% were under 18; yet of all persons arrested for murder and rape, only 8 and 16%, respectively, are juveniles.   In a 2005 study at Williams College, students gave false confessions when confronted with manufactured evidence.

Police are trained to interrogate suspects using psychological methods.  These interrogation techniques are powerfully coercive and are designed to destroy the suspect’s hope and confidence.  Police often lie to suspects about the evidence against them and make false promises about what will happen if they provide a confession.  The police, convinced before the interrogation that the suspect is guilty, go to great lengths to obtain a confession.  The prosecution is then convinced by the confession that the suspect is guilty.

And that is how many wrongful convictions happen.

Nga Truong spent her 17th, 18th and 19th birthdays in jail after being coerced into confessing that she murdered her infant son.  Why would she say she killed her baby when she hadn’t?  Read more about Nga Truong at:

Learn more about coerced confessions at: at: