Study: Why Mentally Disabled at Higher Risk of Giving False Confessions

It has long been known that people with mental disabilities are more vulnerable to giving a false confession. As reported in the Durango Herald (Colorado) here, a 2008 study revealed “53 cases of serious felonies to which people with intellectual disabilities confessed and were later legally exonerated.” DNA and other proof of innocence sometimes came after years of imprisonment.

One example: a man with an IQ of 56 confessed to the murders of six women and served 22 years before DNA excluded him as the perpetrator.

The article explains, “People with intellectual disabilities frequently strive to please others, especially those in authority. Often, this is a survival technique learned by a person who is dependent on others to meet his or her basic needs.”

La Plata County (CO) sought to raise awareness of this issue by instituting, in 2003, Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for law enforcement and other first responders. The CIT training has graduated 230 with improved tools and a better understanding for responding when persons with mental disabilities are involved.

2 responses to “Study: Why Mentally Disabled at Higher Risk of Giving False Confessions

  1. Nancy,
    I’d love to know how many of those 53 confessions involved the Reid Technique. I”m looking for this kind of data.

    • That’s a very good question, Phil. I’m not certain if that information was determined in this study. But, as you certainly know, the Reid Technique has been broadly used in interrogations by law enforcement nationally for years.

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