Case reveals danger of false confessions among the criminally accused
A man who confessed and pled guilty to a 1982 Chicago double homicide was recently released because of evidence that his confession was coerced.
In 1999, a man confessed and pled guilty to a double murder that took place in Chicago in 1982. According to Reuters, the man who had originally been convicted was exonerated, and that case was considered a victory for innocent and wrongly accused people. However, after serving 15 years in prison, the man who confessed and pled guilty to the murder charges in 1999 was recently freed, based on evidence that he was actually innocent and his confession was coerced.
Authorities found that the man only made his videotaped confession because he was threatened and misled. The man was told witnesses had seen him committing the crime, and he was promised a profitable book deal if he confessed. He also was threatened with the death penalty. Ultimately, these factors led the man to make a false confession.
False confessions not uncommon
While this case may seem unusual, it highlights a problem that is not uncommon. According to the Innocence Project, roughly 30 percent of people who were eventually exonerated actually pled guilty, confessed to crimes they did not commit or hinted at guilt through self-incriminating remarks. The rate of false confessions among people who remain wrongfully incarcerated is not known.
The unit that investigated the Illinois man’s conviction has found 10 other questionable convictions that were ultimately vacated, according to Reuters. A state attorney from the unit notes that even measures such as videotaping confessions, which used to be considered a safeguard against false confessions, are now open to scrutiny.
Common contributing factors
The Innocence Project states many influences may cause a wrongly accused person to believe making a false confession is the most advantageous option, even when the person is accused of a crime, such as assault, that carries harsh penalties. The following factors often play a role in false confessions:
- Mental state – People who are temporarily incapacitated, due to intoxication, exhaustion or other factors, may make false confessions in moments of poor judgment.
- Mental capacity – People with mental illnesses or disabilities may misunderstand the situation or make a false confession to appease authority figures.
- Threats – Threats of immediate physical violence, long-term imprisonment or other consequences of failure to confess may compel a person to give a false statement.
- Misunderstanding – Many people may not understand their rights or the full consequences of confessing. For example, some people believe they can make a false confession, gain release and later gather evidence to prove their innocence.
The fact that false admissions or confessions played a role in over one-quarter of exoneration cases shows that many people are at risk for this outcome. This is one reason why Joliet residents facing criminal accusations should always consult with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney can provide advice on a person’s legal rights and alternatives to making a false confession.