False Confessions


Usually, students underestimate the importance of a rough draft. It is obviously secondary to the final paper; however, the final product is based entirely on the rough draft. The greater the effort made in developing the rough draft, the better will be the final version of the seminar paper. The rough draft will take more time than just a haphazard writing of ideas takes, and if the draft is done well, it will save much time and worry at the time of the final writing.

Gather all the materials you have collected so far related to your seminar paper.

Strategy: Read all notes and write one or two paragraphs in your own words explaining the main point of your seminar paper. Explain the essential message you have researched and are trying to communicate. Keep this material before you as you write the rough draft. Revise it as you proceed, if necessary. This may become your introduction or your conclusion. Your seminar paper should be constructed to develop and support your thesis through discussion of the studies you have researched.

Created an appropriate introduction explaining the topic and its importance in the forensic psychology field.

Provided a well-integrated analysis of the scholarly research on the topic appropriate in depth and length.

Clearly expressed one or more conclusions emerging from the review of the literature and showed how your review of the literature supports your conclusions.

Identified recommendations for conducting further research to address the specific gaps in the literature.

Wrote in a clear, concise, and organized manner; demonstrated ethical scholarship in the accurate representation and attribution of sources; and displayed accurate spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Sample paper

False Confessions

Examining the duo impact of interrogation tactics and suspect characteristics on false confessions


Various studies suggest that certain interrogation practices by police increase the likelihood of obtaining false confessions. This is true in light of the recent incidences of DNA exonerations. DNA exonerations indicate that people may confess to offenses that they did not take part in due to a multiplicity of factors. This paper examines the factors relating to the nature of police interrogations and the suspect characteristics. The various factors relating to the nature of police investigations include minimization and maximization strategies, presentation of false evidence, and coercive interrogation techniques. The nature of police interrogations fundamentally affects the likelihood of false confessions. The various individual or suspect characteristics include age, mental illness, IQ score or intelligence, as well as various personality traits. Suspect characteristics and interrogation methods also play a huge role in development of false memories.

Interrogation tactics and suspect characteristics play a significant part role in suspect confessions. A combination of interrogation tactics and suspect characteristics largely influence the outcomes of an interrogation process. In the recent period, the issue of wrongful convictions has come in the limelight following DNA evidence exonerations of high profile cases. This has raised concern over the efficacy of interrogation tactics employed by law enforcement officers. Indeed, interrogation practices employed by the police have been a center of interest in various fields include criminology, sociology, and in the field of forensic psychology. Forensic psychologists apply psychological knowledge to solving legal matters in the criminal justice system. The issue of false confessions is important to the field of forensic psychology. Forensic psychologists scrutinize psychological evidence and provide opinion that influence court decisions. Application of forensic psychology can assist in evaluating the best interrogation practices and in determining false confessions. Recent evidence indicates that about 20 percent of DNA evidence exonerations comprise of false confessions (Kassin, Drizin, Grisso, Gudjonsson, Leo, & Redlich, 2010). This calls for a closer look at factors contributing to false confessions and making recommendations to mitigate these factors.

DNA Exonerations

The application of DNA testing provides credible evidence that helps in decision making in courts. DNA evidence is highly accurate. Over the last three decades, DNA evidence has been used in exonerating wrongly convicted individuals. The first DNA exoneration occurred in in 1989, involving Gary Dotson, convicted of rape (Kassin et al., 2010). Since then, DNA testing has contributed to over 200 exonerations. Surprisingly, about 20 percent of DNA exonerations represent false confessions. These are incidences where suspects admit to committing a crime but later evidence evaluation proves their innocence. This is especially in high profile cases that may attract the death sentence or lead to lengthy incarcerations. There have been recent incidences of high-profile cases involving false confession. In 1997, four men namely Williams, Dick, Jr., Tice and Eric faced conviction for the rape and murder of a woman (“Associated Press”, 2017). Dick, Jr. implicated Tice and Eric during hearing. Later, the men claimed that they pleaded guilty after the interrogation officers issued threats of death penalty. After serving sometime in prison, an inmate, Omar Ballard, confessed to committing the heinous crime. His DNA matched that on the crime scene.

The ‘Norfolk Four’ case and others involving false confession has been the subject of public debate in the recent period. The focus is mainly on the efficacy of interrogation practices employed by the police. These high profile cases highlight the dire need for reexamining interrogation practices by law enforcement officials. The rise of DNA exonerations highlights critical errors in the administration of justice. It also highlights the major sources of wrongful convictions as errors in application of forensic science, false testimonies, eyewitness misidentification, and poor interrogation techniques leading to false confessions. Continued application of DNA evidence in post-conviction analysis will lead to identification of more wrongful conviction. It is difficult to estimate the total number of wrongful convictions that occur in the criminal justice system. This is because of difficulties in proving innocence and lack of official data from the criminal justice system regarding reversed judgments.

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Issues in False Confessions

It is difficult to establish false confessions in the criminal justice system because of challenges in proving innocence on the part of the accused. There are several ways of identifying false confessions within the criminal justice system. The most common method is through DNA exonerations. This occurs when DNA evidence reveals that an individual was not on the scene of crime. Authorities can also consider other forms of scientific evidence. The second way involves the revelation that the alleged crime did not take place. For instance, when a person alleged to be dead emerges. The third way is through the identification of the real perpetrator of the crime. In some cases, the real perpetrators come forward and confess their actions, leading the law enforcement officials to decriminalize those charged.

Most exonerations occur in high profile cases. According to Kassin et al. (2010), 81 percent of false confessions involve murder cases. The sample of this study included the period between 1971 and 2002.  Rape came second with 8 percent of the total exonerations between the periods. Majority of the exonerations occurred because of the arrest or identification of the real perpetrators, representing 74 percent. About 46% of the exonerations were the result of the introduction of new scientific evidence, and mainly DNA evidence. The most vulnerable population includes the young, those with mental illness, and the mentally retarded. About 63 percent of those who confess falsely are below 25 years, and 32 percent below 18 years. These findings indicate an increased likelihood of obtaining false confessions from among the youth.

False Memories

Memory plays a critical role in retrieving information. However, memory is susceptible to distortions especially with the passage of time. Leding (2012) examines the likelihood of developing false memories when interrogators apply persuasion strategies. An analysis of literature indicates that persuasion strategies by interrogation officials increases the risk of not only false confessions by also the formation of false memories, albeit in rare cases. According to Leding (2012), persuasion strategies increase the likelihood of false confessions by curbing the suspect’s ability to engage systematic judgment and by reducing the volume of evidence needed for creating memories. This is similar to Narchet, Meissner, and Russano (2011) assertion that maximization techniques create memory uncertainties among individuals. False memories apply in other key areas apart from influencing false confessions. Research in false memory is integral in evaluation of eyewitness testimony.

Certain persuasion strategies promote the development of false memories among individuals. During interrogations, forensic psychologists or interrogators can exert undue pressure on a suspect, either deliberately or unknowingly, while attempting to evaluate past occurrences (Shaw & Porter, 2015). This undue pressure can significantly affect the accuracy of retrieved memories. In 1979, Elizabeth Loftus examined the misinformation effect and the development of false memories. According to Leding (2012), the misinformation effect occurs in three stages. In the first stage, the individual observes an event occurring. In the second stage, a different party introduces false information concerning the event. In the third stage, the individual who witnessed the event recalls the occurrence. At this stage, it is highly likely that the individual will ‘recall’ things that did not happen in the event. When a third party introduces false information, some infiltrates the witness’s memory, which leads to development of false memories.

Apart from the misinformation effect, other strategies can also influence the formation of false memories. Research indicates that distractions that occur during recounting of events can influence memory formation. Another strategy is imagination inflation. This occurs when individuals imagine or form memories of events that never occurred. Studies have indicated that insinuations about particular events occurring during childhood increase some people’s subjective confidence that the said event actually occurred. For instance, participants were asked to fill a questionnaire purporting that they could have done something during their childhood, such as breaking a window with their bare hands. In the second stage, the researchers requested the participants to imagine the event occurring. In the last stage, the researchers asked the participants to fill out the forms again. This was under the impression that the first forms were lost. The findings indicated that participants had greater confidence that the imaginary events occurred.

It is clear that persuasion strategies increase the possibility of false memories and hence the rate of false confessions. The study of false memories is important because it helps in understanding real world problems in therapeutic process as well as in the criminal justice system (Frenda, Berkowitz, Loftus, & Fenn, 2016). For instance, studies on false memories provide the basis for evaluating cases involving childhood memories of abuse. When investigators or forensic psychologists attempt to dig into past memories, various social influences may come into play, hindering the accurate retrieval of such memories. It is worth noting that the interrogators and forensic psychologists can greatly influence the outcomes or the decision of the court in relation to a particular case. As such, the interrogators and forensic psychologists must ensure that social influences do not come into play while scrutinizing the evidence presented.

From the above, it is clear that researchers can induce individuals to produce false accounts of events through various manipulation strategies. The memories may seem real since individuals involved are able to create new accounts of particular events and hold them as true. According to Porter and Shaw (2015), the mind has the ability to construct coherent but false images of particular events. Memories from emotional and stressful events are also susceptible to memory modifications (Leding, 2012). Lending (2012) notes that alpha strategies that appeal to emotion or fear during interrogations are highly likely to lead to false confessions.

False memories have a significant influence in the interview process. Interrogators who introduce new and inaccurate information during the interview process can lead to formation of false memories. Further, applying aggressive methods such as pressuring a suspect to provide particular information can lead to giving of false accounts (Lending, 2012; Porter & Shaw, 2015). Confrontational approaches during the interview process increase the likelihood of the suspect giving false confessions. Guilt presumption can also influence the development of false memories and hence facilitate false confessions. Internalized confessions are different from compliant and voluntary false confessions described by Kassin et al. (2010). In internalized confessions, the individual involved actually believes that he/she committed the offence (Porter & Shaw, 2015). False memories have similar characteristics as true memories. It is therefore difficult for the suspect or interrogator to identify false memories when they occur.

Interrogation Techniques and False Confessions

Classification of interrogation techniques falls into two main categories. These include maximization and minimization techniques. Minimization techniques are those that are not coercive (Narchet, Meissner, & Russano, 2011). In applying minimization techniques, interrogators may underplay the seriousness of the offense to avoid creating pressure on the suspect. The interrogators show sympathy and provide excuses for why the suspect may have committed the offense in question. The interrogator may also attempt to justify why the suspect committed the offense. On the other hand, maximization techniques are more aggressive and may include coercion (Narchet, Meissner, & Russano, 2011). While applying maximization techniques, the investigators often exaggerate the consequences of the crime to the suspect. Another approach under maximization techniques is the use of false evidence, where the interrogator claims to have DNA evidence or witnesses to the offense. The two categories of interrogation techniques have a significant impact on suspect’s tendency to make a confession.

A number of studies have examined the risk of maximization techniques in leading to false confessions among suspects. Kassin and Kiechel conducted a study to evaluate the impact of aggressive investigation methods in making admissions among suspects (as cited in Narchet, Meissner, & Russano, 2011). The study, also known as “Alt key” paradigm, involved participants completing some typing tasks. During typing, the computer would crash and the researcher would accuse the person of striking the ‘ALT’ key while typing. Prior to the start of the typing exercise, the researcher warned the participants not to strike the ‘ALT’ key. The findings of the study indicate that most participants had memory uncertainty concerning whether they hit the ‘ALT’ key. Presentation of a false witness further convinced the participants that they actually hit the ‘ALT’ key (Frenda, Berkowitz, Loftus, & Fenn, 2016). The study conclusions indicate that the use of false evidence and accusations increase the likelihood of false confessions during interrogations.

Kassin et al. (2010) examines three types of false confessions. The first type of false confession is voluntary false confession. This occurs when a suspect confesses to a crime without coercive action by the investigators. Kassin et al. (2010) hypothesize a number of reasons why people may engage in this type of false confession. One of the possible reasons is a pathological want to be labeled as notorious. Another possible reason is an unconscious need for self-punishment. It is worth noting that majority of voluntary false confessions involve highly publicized murders, such as those involving famous persons. The second type of confession is compliant false confessions. Compliant false confessions involve the suspect being coerced to a confession and usually to avoid particular consequences (Safarik, Ann, & Burgess, 2012). For instance, the interrogator may threaten the suspect with a severe sentence if he/she fails to confess. The last type is internalized false confession, whereby the suspect comes to believe that he/she committed the offence (Porter & Shaw, 2015; Kassin et al., 2010). This occurs through persuasion and influence of errors in remembering.

Generally, aggressive approaches during interrogations increase the likelihood of suspects to make false confessions. Misclassifications by interrogators often increase their use of coercive approaches. Misclassification errors occur when the detectives believe that an innocent individual is guilty of a crime. Once the interrogators misclassify somebody as guilty, they may apply undue pressure until the person confesses to be innocent. This leads to the problem of false confessions. This is worse especially in cases where the interrogators believe they can detect lies among suspects. Psychological coercion leads to police-induced false confessions. This also increases the number of wrongful convictions. According to Snook, Brooks, and Bull (2015), accusatory investigations are more likely to lead to false confessions due to suspect intimidations.

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Personal Factors in False Confessions

Age. Certain dispositional factors play a significant role in determining the likelihood of a false confession. Vast volumes of literature indicate that age and mental status are the key dispositional risk factors influencing false confession. Age is a significant factor in influencing false confessions. According to Yang, Guyll, and Madon (2017), adolescents have an immature brain that encourages impulsivity and inadequate controls in various cognitive tasks. This affects their decision-making. Moreover, the brain of an adolescent is still in development. According to Leo (2009), most of the developmental traits characterizing those with mental disabilities also characterize children and a significant portion of adolescents. This increases their vulnerability to false confessions. Adolescents tend to show immaturity, acquiescence, great trust to authority, and other characteristics that increase their vulnerability to making false confessions. Children and adolescents have a skewed understanding of the consequences or gravity of a particular situation. They may downplay a serious case leading to wrongful convictions.

Intellectual Disabilities. Intellectual disabilities play a significant role in leading to false confessions. According to Yang, Guyll, and Madon (2017), individuals with cognitive impairments are impulsive and unlikely to realize the full gravity of the issues at hand. Thus, while they may could be facing high profile charges, such individuals may not understand the long-term impacts of what they say. Those with cognitive impairments have intellectual disabilities that impair their judgment capabilities. As such, they are unable to appreciate fully the future impacts of the decisions they make. Intellectual disabilities characterized by IQ scores of below 70 present a range of serious impairments such as communication challenges, interpersonal skills, self-direction, and among others. Various mental illnesses can also increase the likelihood of a false confession. Some mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and among others can increase the likelihood of false confessions.

Personality. Other dispositional factors influence the susceptibility of the suspect to false confessions. Personality plays an important role in determining false confessions among individuals (Perillo & Kassin, 2011). Certain personality traits such as compliance, suggestibility, agreeability, and others influence false confessions. Other important factors to include in this category include personality disorders and psychopathology. According to Kassin et al. (2010), personality disorders increase the possibility of false confessions, albeit in a complex way. Individuals with personality disorders are more likely to engage in criminal acts. In line with this, they are more likely to face arrests and interrogations by the police. Since they are prone to lying, this increases their likelihood of making false denials or even false confessions. Psychopathology is closely connected with mental health issues, and hence its presence increases the chance of false confessions.

Vulnerable personality. General vulnerabilities can influence false confessions among individuals. Although coercion plays a greater role in determining false confessions, individual differences also play a role in determining whether an individual can withstand aggressive tactics and pressure from interrogators. Highly compliant individuals are susceptible to making false confessions when under interrogation pressure. Compliant individuals often tend to avoid conflicts by engaging in behaviors that aim to please others (Leo, 2009). In addition, highly suggestible individuals are also at increased risk of false confessions. These persons have common characteristics such as low assertiveness, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Others have poor memory of events. Personality factors, combined with different situational factors such as fatigue, lack of sleep, alcohol withdrawal can lead to false confessions.


The interplay of police interrogation techniques and suspect characteristics influence the he likelihood of suspects making false confessions. Incidences involving false confessions have been on the rise in the recent past as revealed by DNA exonerations. Surprisingly, majority of false confessions involve the youth. Juveniles and individuals with mental health problems are at increased risk of false confessions. Persons with personality disorders are also at increased risk of false confessions. The findings of this study indicate that maximization techniques applied by police are particularly likely to induce false confessions. Maximization techniques are more aggressive and may include coercion. While applying maximization techniques, the investigators often exaggerate the consequences of the crime to the suspect. Personal factors that influence the likelihood of making false confessions include age, intellectual disability, mental illness, personality traits, and other general vulnerabilities.


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Frenda, S. J., Berkowitz, S. R., Loftus, E. F., & Fenn, K. M. (2016). Sleep deprivation and false   confessions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of    America, 113(8):2047-2050.

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Safarik, Mark E,M.S., V.S.M., Burgess, Ann W,D.N.Sc, A.P.R.N., & Burgess, A. G., D.B.A.       (2012). FALSE CONFESSION vs. investigative logic. Forensic Examiner, 21(1), 8-17.    Retrieved from             https://login.libproxy.edmc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.edmc.edu/            docview/1239519408?accountid=34899

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False Confessions and Annotated Bibliography