Police interrogations are meant to be overwhelming. Putting pressure on suspects is often how officers get people to confess, though sometimes those confessions are false. Now, research is showing that suspects with mental illnesses are much more at risk of being pushed into a confession and being falsely convicted.
Why false confessions happen
False confessions can occur for many different reasons. The Innocence Project lists a few that often are contributing factors, including:
- Intoxication by drugs or alcohol
- Impaired mental state
- Threats of violence or of harsh sentencing
- Misunderstanding of the law or of the situation
The link between confessions and mental illness
The National Registry of Exonerations shows that 27% of those accused of homicide gave false confessions. 81% of those with a mental illness or disability also gave false confessions when accused.
Lack of complete and present mental capacity can be a huge factor in false confessions. People with mental disabilities may be easier to coerce into a confession, especially by law enforcement not trained to deal with those with disabilities.
Those with mental illness may be in an impaired cognitive state which can make them more susceptible to guilt. On top of that, lengthy interrogations, exhaustion and implication that they will be released can be influential in leading to giving false confessions, even in those who do not have mental illness or disability.
While courts and law enforcement question confessions, that does not always protect those who give false confessions. There are still many who suffer under the weight of a confession given under duress and find themselves facing charges for a crime they did not commit.