This question has puzzled criminologists, psychologists and criminal lawyers for centuries. It goes against the grain of all rational permutations, why a person would, on his own ‘volition’ own up to a crime he did not commit. Prof. Mark Godsey succintly restated the befuddling conundrum this way: ’The idea that a suspect would falsely confess to a crime that he did not commit seems counterintuitive and nonesensical. Psychiatrists and social scientists are examining the reasons why false confessions occur, and we have a long way to go before we will have a complete answer’.
David K. Shipler in his article in the New York Times of February 23, 2012 attempted to grapple with the question. He identified shoddy police investigation; suspects apprehension and fear of the system – ‘They are susceptible to suggestion, eager to please authority figures, disconnected from reality, or unable to defer gratification’. In the case of children, he states: ’Children think they will be jailed if they keep up their denial and will get to go home if they go along with interrogators’. As for adults, he opined that ’Matured adults of normal intelligence have also confessed falsely after being manipulated’.
The penultimate and concluding paragraphs offers 2 suggestions which I consider apposite. He says -
1. ‘The police could be prohibited from lying about nonexistent evidence; from inducing a suspect to imagine leniency; from questioning minors without a parent or a lawyer present. They could be required to corroborate a confession with stringent evidence:
2. Finally, post-conviction challenges of confessions could be assigned to judges and prosecutors other than those who tried the original cases. The natural unwillingness to admit a grave error should not have to be overcome for justice to be done’
The full text of the article can be read here