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Psycological Approach to Criminal Behavior and Why False Confessions Happen

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Psycological Approach To Criminal Behavior And Why False Confessions Happen

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Many individuals believe with certainty that they would never confess to a crime they are not guilty of. No innocent individual would wrongfully confess to a crime they did not commit, as they know they have done nothing wrong and are not guilty of any charges. However, false confessions happen, and they happen often in the justice system (Bushon, 2015, p. 3). And it can be difficult to understand why an innocent individual would wrongly confess to a crime they did not commit.

There are several causes and factors that lead to a false confession. For multiple reasons, individuals often confess to a crime they are not guilty of. The following paper will provide an analysis on the reasons behind false confessions. This analysis will be discussing the high-pressure environments, psychological tactics and legal misunderstandings that lead to obtaining a false confession from an innocent suspect. Before going into an interrogation room, an innocent suspect can be certain they will not falsely confess. But that certainty often crumbles under the situational pressures in an interrogation room.

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Situational pressures are created during police interrogation process, to get a confession. The interrogation process can take an go on for long periods of time, during which several factors can persuade false confessions. The police interrogation process is crucial and a detailed look into that process, helps to explain the reasons behind false confessions. When the police conduct their investigations, their focus is to obtain a confession. One of the main methods used by the police is the Reid Interrogation Technique. This technique “involves a detailed analysis of the facts of the case, the interviewing and interrogation of suspects” (Campbell, 2018, p. 85).

The main components of the technique are confrontational, manipulative and suggestive. The technique has two-stages, a non-accusatory interview and an accusatory interrogation. In the non-accusatory interview, the interrogator will ask questions and evaluate the suspect's honesty by focusing on the suspect’s body language, or lack of eye contact to determine guilty behavior. If the interrogator suspects guilt, they will proceed to an accusatory interrogation (Bushon, 2015, p. 16). This leads to tunnel vision, where police officers narrow onto one suspect or detail in a case, and focus so closely on that, that they lose sight of any other potential suspects (Campbell, 2018, p. 52). The accusatory interrogation breaks down the suspect mentally, it brings the suspects to a point of exhaustion. This is done by the interrogator repeatedly stating that the suspect is guilty and that their only option is to confess. The interrogator will cut off all denials of guilt, and presents the suspect with false incriminating evidence (Bushon, 2015, p. 16).

The police create a secluded and high-pressure environment in the interrogation room for the suspects. And this leads to a stress-compliant confession. This type of confession occurs when there is tremendous pressure and stress put on the suspect during the interrogation (Campbell, 2018, p. 90). In the beginning of an interrogation it is easier for a person to defend themselves, but eventually they start to break down. Some interrogations can last up to 16 hours, and during this time the suspect is not offered any food or water. The suspect is mentally and physically exhausted at this point. And after being questioned for a long time, innocent suspects lose their energy to continue defending themselves. The innocent suspects fall victim to the situational pressure, as they are unable to tolerate the mental stress and abuse any longer. The suspects are desperate to escape the relentless questioning and the stressful environment, which leads them to confessing to a crime they did not commit. Psychology and false confession are very closely linked; they go hand-in-hand with each other. The psychological manipulation of a suspect can elicit false confessions. The police interrogation is a psychological process, that greatly effects the suspects.

There are two types of confessions that target psychological vulnerability and manipulation. The first is the coerced-persuaded confession. In this type of false confession, suspects confess to a crime they have no memory of committing (Campbell, 2018, p. 90). The suspects start to doubt their own memory and ability to recall details of the crime. Once the suspect starts to doubt themselves, they start to believe that they could have committed the crime. This doubt or questioning of one’s memory is a result of relentless questioning, that can last up to hours and even days. In the questioning process, a suspect is presented with fabricated evidence and facts about the case. The questioning officers make the suspect doubt their own memory by attacking the suspect’s confidence in their own memory. The officers offer an explanation for the suspects lack of memory regarding the crime, and then provides details on how and when the crime was committed to obtain a confession (Campbell, 2018, p. 91).

During the interrogation process innocent suspects can come to believe that they did commit the crime in question, even though they have no recollection of the crime. Suspects start to believe they are guilty through psychological manipulation and coercion and other facts they are told by the interrogators (Russano, 2003, p. 56). The coercion is so powerful that suspects will start to believe they have committed the crime and are guilty of the charged. An example of this is; a research study, in which participants were accused of breaking a computer. In reality, all the participants were innocent and denied the accusation at first. However, by using interrogation techniques, 69% of innocent participants singed a confession. 28% believed that they broke the computer. At the end of the experiment, 100% of the participants signed a confession (Russano, 2003 , p. 52).

The second type of confession that is obtained through psychological manipulation is the non-coerced-persuaded confession. The difference between is that, in this the confession is elicited through psychological manipulation and not coercion (Campbell, 2018, p. 91). In this confession, manipulation occurs subtly and through this the police convince the suspect that they committed the crime, but they just cannot remember it. The officers can strongly influence the way the suspect thinks. The suspect begins believing they have committed the crime, because of the environment they are in. They have been in an interrogation room for hours, without food or water, being questioned and told information about the case. After such a long time, the way the suspect thinks and remembers the crime begins to change (Campbell, 2018, p. 91). They start to agree with the questioning officer’s explanations and falsely confess to a crime, without realizing it. In these psychologically manipulative ways, a false confession is obtained from innocent individuals. As this manipulation, leads to confusion, self-doubt about one’s memories and creates false memories or details of a crime they did not commit.

One other main reason for false confessions is suspect vulnerabilities. Some individuals are more vulnerable than others, and more likely to confess. And one of the biggest vulnerability a suspect can have is, legal misunderstanding (Russano, 2003, p. 57). Many individuals sign a false confession because they are not aware of their legal rights or are unable to completely understand the situation. Some individuals are more vulnerable to this legal misunderstanding than others (Russano, 2003, p. 59). Such as; the youth, individuals who suffer from a disability, and who are less educated. There have numerous cases involving false confessions, where individuals have misunderstood their rights to remain silent or their right to counsel.

The right to silence, under section 7 and Section 11(c), of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom allows the accused to refuse to answer questions or make statements, during the interrogation process. This right is in place to prevent self-incrimination. But many individuals, especially the youth are not aware of this right that they have. And the lack of this knowledge, has led to pressure filled interrogations, in which the suspect ends up self-incriminating themselves and is charged by the police. Individuals who do not completely understand their right to silence, engage in the interrogation process in which a false confession is elicited from them.

The misunderstanding of the right to counsel has also led to false confessions. Under section 10(b) of the Charter, whether an individual has been charged or not, they have the right to a lawyer (Russano, 2003, p. 57). Not having a lawyer present can have life changing effects on an individual, as it can result in additional charges or jail time. As without the aid of a legal attorney, many individuals are not aware of how the legal system operates and the steps needed to ensure they are not falsely charged for a crime they did not commit. By having a lawyer present, they can ensure that the suspect does not falsely confess. As a suspect in an interrogation room, the right to remain silent and the right to legal representation are the most important rights one can have. But many times individuals have waived their right to silence and counsel, unintentionally, and then faced repercussions of being found guilty for a crime they did not commit.

In conclusion, while someone might say that they “will never confess to a crime they did not commit”, the factors mentioned above can lead to false confessions regardless of one’s belief. An individual can be resilient and adamant that they would never falsely confess, but often times the result is different after having gone through an interrogation process. As, there are many curial factors that will lead to a false confession from an innocent individual. The stressful and harsh interrogation process, the psychological manipulation, and the lack of legal understanding are all leading factors of false confessions. These factors and causes help to understand the reasons as to why an innocent person would falsely confess to a crime.

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