"Only the Guilty Would Confess": The Risk of False Confessions Among Juveniles

Build awareness and guide solution validation

Get Started. It's Free
or sign up with your email address
Rocket clouds
"Only the Guilty Would Confess": The Risk of False Confessions Among Juveniles by Mind Map: "Only the Guilty Would Confess": The Risk of False Confessions Among Juveniles

1. Police Practices

1.1. Interrogation Techniques

1.1.1. "Observational studies have shown that because police are legally prohibited from taking confessions through torture, violence, threats of harm or punishment, or promises of leniency, police interrogation tends to be psychologically oriented" (Hasel & Kassin, 2012).

1.1.2. Maximization

1.1.2.1. The intent of maximization tactics is to intimidate the suspect under question. (It can include bluffing and presenting fabricated evidence.)

1.1.2.2. Presenting false evidence

1.1.2.3. Bluffing, which presents evidence, but without further indication that the evidence necessarily incriminates or is associated with the suspect

1.1.3. Minimization

1.1.3.1. The intent of this tactic is to minimize the perceived consequences of confessions and the seriousness of the offense.

1.1.3.2. Building rapport and gaining the suspect's trust

1.1.3.3. Appealing to the suspect's self-interest

1.1.3.4. Offering sympathy, justifications or face-saving excuses to the offense, normalizing the crime

1.1.4. Physical isolation and lengthy interviews

1.2. Training in the "Reid Technique"

1.2.1. The most commonly cited training program for interviewing and interrogating is the Reid technique.

1.2.1.1. The techniques taught can generally be separated into two categories: minimization and maximization

1.2.1.2. When compared with police who were not trained under the Reid method, those who were Reid-trained (1) perceive adolescents as more mature and competent under interrogation, and (2) use more psychologically coercive questioning techniques with adolescents (Kostelnik & Reppucci, 2009).

1.2.1.2.1. Reid-trained police had a higher likelihood of using false evidence, deceit, and minimization tactics with adolescents and adults than with children, whereas non-Reid trained police were significantly more likely to report using false evidence and deceit with adults rather than adolescents or children.

1.2.1.2.2. Reid-trained officers were also less likely to believe that juveniles are suggestible, and more likely to believe that they comprehend their rights and the intent of an interrogation.

1.3. Perceptions Regarding Juveniles' Developmental Maturity

1.3.1. Despite indications that law enforcement acknowledge some developmental differences among juveniles, they generally still view that youth and adults can be handled in the same manner

1.3.2. How police perceive youth in general contradicts how they treat youth in the context of interrogation

1.3.3. Although there is some acknowledgement that false confessions are sometimes elicited, police believe that further evidence nullified the confession, before any charges were made (Meyer & Reppucci, 2007).

1.3.3.1. Police would likely be less inclined to attribute false confessions to the limitations of their own interrogation techniques and behavior.

1.4. Custodial interviews are fact-finding and non-accusatory. The intent is to judge a person’s innocence or guilt, and those who are believed to guilty are then interrogated. The interrogation is conducted in a carefully contrived and controlled environment, and the intent is to elicit a confession from the suspect.

1.4.1. Because police enter the interrogation with the belief that the suspect is guilty, the process has the potential to be incorrectly skewed by cognitive and behavioral confirmation biases.

2. Dispositional Factors

2.1. Miranda Warnings

2.1.1. Adolescents are likely unable to fully comprehend neither written nor spoken Miranda warnings

2.1.1.1. There are 5 components of Miranda warnings: (1) Right to protection against self-incrimination, (2) Right to silence, (3) Right to counsel, (4) Right to have have a court-appointed attorney if indigent, (5) Right to stop answering questions at any time

2.1.1.1.1. Notably, 3 of the 5 components are typically beyond the reading capacities of juvenile offenders.

2.1.1.1.2. Critical terms including "indigent", "renounce", "duress", and "waiver", require a vocabulary commensurate with college-level education. Other terms require at least a 10th grade education, such as "retain" and "counsel" (both grade 12).

2.1.1.1.3. A unique component specific to some juvenile Miranda warnings is the addition of the right to the presence of a parent or guardian

2.1.1.2. Two systems of measurement that estimate the number of years of education (grade-equivalent reading level) needed for 75% comprehension (Flesch-Kincaid system) or full (90-100%) comprehension (SMOG) of a written material were used to evaluate the language of Miranda warnings (Rogers et. al., 2008).

2.1.1.2.1. The percentage of warnings and waivers that are consistently easy to understand (standard set at 6th grade or below) are: For Flesch-Kincaid - 41% of the warnings/waivers; for SMOG - 0%. For full comprehension, the average required education level is 9th grade.

2.1.1.2.2. Juvenile Miranda warnings are lengthier and more complex; than general warnings. For full comprehension (90-100% of the material) of juvenile warnings, 3 Miranda components require higher reading levels than for general warnings.

2.1.1.2.3. Legalistic language and terms are often misunderstood or not understood

2.1.1.3. Miranda warnings are delivered under the assumption that juvenile suspects have continued their regular education, attending classes and having reading levels appropriate to their grade level and age

2.1.2. Most juvenile suspects waive their Miranda rights. As of 2008, only about 10% have exercised their rights

2.1.3. Conclusion: The incomprehensibility of Miranda warnings may render the intent of the warnings ineffective, making subsequent decisions to waive interrogation rights invalid or involuntary. Far-reaching effects of invalid waivers can lead to false confessions.

2.2. Brain Development and the Prefrontal Cortex

2.2.1. Adolescence is a crucial period for the development and maturation of neurobiological processes, particularly in the prefrontal cortex

2.2.1.1. The prefrontal cortex matures more slowly than other brain regions. It is not fully developed until early adulthood (mid-20s).

2.2.1.2. MRI, fMRI, and other neuroimaging technology have shown evidence of these structural changes

2.2.1.3. The prefrontal cortex is the foundation of complex cognitive functions which include reasoning, reward evaluation, planning, and other executive functions

2.2.1.4. "Brain development during adolescence typically demonstrates significant decreases in cortical gray matter and increases in white matter" (Yurgelun-Todd, 2007).

2.2.1.4.1. White matter reflects myelination of nerve cells, which enables the frontal cortex to become more focal and specialized (e.g. in regulating impulse control) while also reducing irrelevant activity

2.2.2. The cognitive processes and reasoning abilities that are critical during custodial interview and interrogation are not yet developed in juveniles, whose decisions (e.g. to waive Miranda rights) may place them at greater risk for interrogation-induced false confessions.

2.3. Suggestibility

2.3.1. Adolescents (and especially children) are much more suggestible than adults.

2.3.1.1. In an interrogation, they are particularly susceptible when faced with suggestive interrogation tactics that may ultimately elicit a false confession or false guilty plea.

2.3.1.2. In some instances, distorted recollections and false memories are created, and an innocent person can be induced to internalize the belief that they are guilty of a crime they did not commit (Hasel & Kassin, 2012).

2.3.1.2.1. Example: In 1998, 14-year old Michael Crowe falsely confessed to the murder of his younger sister, after a 3 day interrogation that led him to doubt his own innocence and, ultimately, to internalize responsibility for the crime.

2.4. Decision Making

2.4.1. People tend to place disproportionate weight on proximal, rather than distal, consequences, preferring short-term gains - partly reflecting the perceived uncertainty of the future.

2.4.1.1. "When making decisions, people have a tendency to assign greater weight to certain outcomes than to probabilistic ones, and there is wide agreement among researchers of decision-making that people tend to equate proximity with certainty" (Madon et. al., 2013).

2.5. These dispositional vulnerabilities are largely transitive; they are factors significantly attributed the period of adolescence.

3. Situational Factors

3.1. Effects of Social Influence

3.1.1. Adolescents have greater compliance with authority/authority figures, rather than an adult suspects, who are around the same age as the police interrogator and, relatedly, more assertive.

3.1.2. Stanley Milgram's experiments on obedience and other research on processes of social influence have shown that "people's obedience to an authority figure is greater when the negative consequences of their behavior are delayed or physically distant from them" (Madon et. al., 2013)

3.1.3. Compliant effects of the foot-in-the-door phenomenon (and interrogation technique) results from the use of sequential requests. Once a person initially agrees to a modest command, as the commands gradually escalate, larger acts of obedience are obtained.

3.1.4. The influence of police interrogators can reflect Psychologist Bibb Latane's Social Impact Theory (first published in 1981 and subsequently supported with further research), which specifies the effect of other persons on an individual. (Bibb is also known for his work on the bystander effect and related interventions.)

3.1.4.1. This theory has 3 principles: (1) When other persons are the source of impact and the target is the individual, the impact is the result of the strength of the source (the person's perceived power/importance), the immediacy of the consequence and absence of intervening forces, and the number of sources (people) present; (2) The extent of impact increases as the number of sources increase; and (3) The extent of impact decreases as the number of targeted individuals increases, as the force of impact is divided among the individuals.

3.1.4.2. Many of these principles are present in the interrogation room. The interrogator brings power, immediacy, and strength in numbers.

3.2. Decision Making: The Influence of Proximal Consequences

3.2.1. The tendency to prefer short-term gains (e.g. ending an aversive situation) and temporarily discount distal consequences is especially salient among adolescents, who are significantly more prone to impulsivity.

3.2.2. When deciding to confess in an interrogation, the likelihood of following this tendency is strengthened the longer the interrogation continues. It's also strengthened by the perceived seriousness of the offense (influenced by minimization techniques) and by expectations of a lengthy/lengthier interrogation (Madon et. al., 2010).

3.2.3. In one case, Todd Johnson falsely confessed to the murder of his wife after 19 hours of interrogation. He was ultimately acquitted, and cited exhaustion and knowledge that the blood presented as evidence could not be incriminating as reasons for confessing.

3.3. The Sensitivity of Interrogation Tactics to Adolescent Development

3.3.1. The bluff tactic

3.3.1.1. This is a method seen as less deceptive than the false evidence ploy, because an innocent person should not feel threatened by the evidence presented - the method would only elicit confessions from the true perpetrator.

3.3.1.2. For innocent suspects under interrogation, "the 'threat' of evidence implied by the bluff represents a 'promise' of future exoneration, paradoxically making it easier to confess" (Perillo & Kassin, 2011).

3.3.1.3. Fully aware of their own innocence, suspects confess in order to leave the aversive situation and expect to later be exonerated because they know the presented evidence would prove their innocence.

3.3.2. Presenting false evidence

3.3.2.1. Adolescents are much more susceptible to suggestive interrogation techniques.

3.3.2.2. There are instances where, in addition to confessing, innocent suspects (often juveniles and individuals with cognitive or mental impairments, who are more vulnerable) become convinced of their own guilt, sometimes even creating false memories of the offense. People can come to distrust and doubt their own memory, making them vulnerable to false evidence and other misleading techniques that present misinformation.

3.3.2.3. When considering police officers' perceptions, and officers who undergo training in the Reid technique, this tactic and its effects become more problematic.

3.4. Presence of a parent or guardian

3.4.1. In effort to protect juvenile suspects, some juvenile Miranda warnings include the right to consultation with a parent or guardian.

3.4.1.1. The law presumes that parents are able to compensate for the youthful deficits of the juvenile defendant, which may be true in some cases

3.4.1.2. This clause of Miranda is often misunderstood

3.4.1.2.1. Understanding this component requires at least a 10th grade education.

3.4.1.2.2. It's possible that this warning is misunderstood as a choice between legal counsel or parental input.

3.4.1.3. The law's assumption of a parent's ability to compensate for the juvenile may be incorrect.

3.4.1.3.1. Parents know more about Miranda warnings and its implications than adolescents, but they do not necessarily know more about police strategies or the extent of parental protection (Woolard et. al., 2008).

3.4.1.3.2. Advice given by the parent (e.g. telling the juvenile to "just tell the truth"), if any, may not align with the best interests of the juvenile.

3.4.1.3.3. Goals of the parent and of the juvenile may be incongruent

3.4.1.3.4. The result may be an interrogation environment wherein the parent or guardian is not adequately able to compensate for the juvenile's lack of knowledge, protect their interests, or act as a protective factor against coercive questioning.

3.5. Conclusion: Situational factors exacerbate preexisting dispositional vulnerabilities, further increasing the risk of eliciting interrogation-induced false confessions.

4. Implications & Policy Suggestions

4.1. In the past, psychological research has influenced legislation pertaining to legal procedures, such as the reliability of eyewitness identification and the questioning of younger victims/witnesses. Here are several potential suggestions for protecting the vulnerability of juveniles against interrogation-induced false confessions.

4.1.1. Creating and implementing a developmentally sensitive interrogation/interview training program for law enforcement, or more standard procedures for juvenile interrogation.

4.1.2. Impose time limits on interrogations

4.1.3. Require videotaping of an interrogation

4.1.3.1. Technology can malfunction

4.1.3.2. Camera angle biases can affect judgements

4.1.4. Mandate that a lawyer or parent/guardian must be present before any questioning begins, and before any waiver of rights can be considered valid

4.2. There is evidence that suggests that the practices used to increase true confessions also increases false confessions. Would efforts to decrease false confessions inadvertently decrease true confessions? Perhaps that possibility is more reason for the necessity of examining the nature of false confessions.