Research shows that while false confessions occur among defendants of any age, the phenomenon occurs more frequently among juveniles. The Innocence Project explains that people may admit to a crime they didn’t commit for the following reasons:
- They did not fully understand the law or the situation
- They were intoxicated
- They were afraid of a harsh sentence or violence
- They were physically harmed during interrogation
- They have a diminished capacity to proceed with the interrogation
The numbers do not lie: the National Registry of Exonerations found that in 38 percent of cases in which the defendant was later exonerated of the crime, a false confession took place. The same is true in only 11 percent of cases involving adults.
Juveniles may be easier to manipulate than their adult counterparts, and the mental state of the defendant often plays a role in obtaining a false confession. What’s more, juveniles tend to focus on short-term gratification and act impulsively. In some cases, for example, young defendants may believe that if they confess to a crime, they will be able to go home.
Protecting juveniles’ rights during interrogations is an important part of preserving the integrity of their criminal records. A false confession can lead not only to harsh sentences, but the crime can haunt the defendant through every phase of life.
In order to resolve the problem of false confessions, advocates have suggested that law enforcement tape investigative sessions with defendants. Research has shown that recording the entire interrogation can be effective because it gives a judge or courtroom the complete picture. Additionally, law enforcement members tend to act more appropriately when they know that they are under surveillance.