ISSUES IN FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY
Coerced Confessions


  1. Laboratory evidence dramatically demonstrates the relative ease with which confessions can be coerced from naive subjects. One of the procedures of a 1996 experiment resulted in 100% of the subjects signing a false confession, and 65% of those subjects genuinely believed they were guilty.

  2. Police personnel are often trained to interrogate suspects in a stepwise manner that: (1) Confronts the suspect with his supposed guilt, (2) Develops psychological themes to justify or excuse the crime, (3) Interrupts any statements of denial expressed by the suspect, (4) Overcomes the suspect's insisting he could not have committed the crime, (5) Interferes with the suspect "tuning-out" during the interrogation, (6) Demonstrates sympathy and understanding while urging the suspect to "tell the truth," (7) Provides the suspect a face-saving explanation for his alleged crime, (8) Leads the suspect into recounting the details of the supposed crime, and (9) Converts these apparent details into a written confession.

  3. Training programs frequently lead police interrogators into assuming they can identify whether suspects are truthful or deceptive by observing their body language and verbal habits. The relevant research, however, clearly demonstrates that relying on these kinds of cues does not accurately discriminate between truthfulness and deception.

  4. Some false confessions occur when interrogators rely on "maximization" techniques. These techniques intimidate suspects by overstating the seriousness of the charges, and sometimes resorting to exaggerated or false claims about the evidence available to the interrogator. Maximization techniques persuade suspects that they would do well to cooperate with the interrogator, otherwise they will be in even more trouble.

  5. Other false confessions occur when interrogators rely on "minimization" techniques. These techniques suggest socially acceptable rationales for the suspect's alleged criminal conduct. Minimization techniques lull suspects into a mistaken sense of security, believing that the interrogator sympathetically understands their plight; and therefore, will help them.

  6. Some false confessions can be classified as the "coerced-compliant" type. In these cases, the confession merely amounts to an act of compliance. Suspects actually know they are innocent, but confess believing that their confession will lead to a more beneficial outcome than not confessing. Interrogators' exaggerated or false claims regarding the evidence available to them are often instrumental in obtaining coerced-compliant confessions.

  7. Other false confessions can be classified as the "coerced-internalized" type. In these cases, suspects actually come to believe they are guilty of committing a crime. Coerced-internalized confessions occur when anxious, confused suspects feel overwhelmed by very suggestive interrogation tactics. In particular, interrogators typically offer suspects a rationale as to how they could have committed the crime, and then forgotten it.

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© 2011 Dr. Terence W. Campbell, Ph.D., ABPP