Questions about how false confessions happen — and continue to happen no matter how many cautionary cases are brought to light, is an ongoing mystery. As noted in this excellent explanation of the issue in The Jury Expert, false confessions in North America date back to at least 1692 and the Salem Witch Trials.
Unfortunately, a more prevalent form false confession — guilty pleas by innocent defendants — gets far less attention. Some nations prohibit plea bargains to prevent this problem, but they are integral part of the criminal-justice system in the United States, where more than 90 percent of cases end with guilty pleas. As Danny Weil argues in a pointed essay here, the growth of pea bargains in the Unites States has become ”a historical canker sore on the judicial system” that has helped foster America’s mushrooming incarceration rate over the past three decades.
Even worse, when evidence of innocence of a person who pled guilty later surfaces, court rules make it extremely difficult to get a conviction reversed. For every guilty person like former football star Brian Banks who is allowed to clear his name, dozens of others are denied the opportunity because of the system’s strict rules against reopening cases that ended in guilty pleas. This is an issue that deserves much more attention.