The Psychology of Interrogations and False Confessions: Research and Recommendations

By Meissner, Christian; Russano, Melissa B. | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, March 2003 | Go to article overview

The Psychology of Interrogations and False Confessions: Research and Recommendations


Meissner, Christian, Russano, Melissa B., Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


ABSTRACT

Wrongful convictions have increasingly garnished media attention both in North America and Britain. In addition to a variety of factors, instances of false confession have been identified as a contributing cause of some wrongful convictions. As a result of this finding, social scientists have begun to study the interrogation process in an effort to understand the factors that may lead to such false confessions. The present article reviews what is known about the psychology of police interrogations, including an examination of the concept of investigative bias, the influence of potentially coercive interrogation techniques, and vulnerabilities of a suspect that can increase the likelihood of a false confession. The article also discusses a novel alternative approach to the interrogation process that has recently been implemented in Britain. Finally, the article proposes preliminary directions for "best practice" in the use of interrogation techniques.

Wrongful convictions have increasingly garnished media attention both in North America and Britain. Although it is generally believed that such instances are relatively rare, exonerations of convicted individuals through DNA testing are increasing at a rate that few in the criminal justice system might have speculated (Scheck, 2001). As discussed by Scheck, Neufeld, and Dwyer (2000), a variety of factors may be responsible for such wrongful convictions, including mistaken eyewitness identification (see Turtle, Lindsay, & Wells, this issue), use of "junk forensic science" that is not scientifically rigorous, prosecutorial misconduct, or ineffective defence counsel representation (see also, Westervelt & Humphrey, 2001). In addition, instances of false confession have been identified as a contributing factor in some wrongful convictions. Due in large part to such cases, social scientists have begun to explore factors that may lead a person to confess to a crime that he/she did not commit (see Gudjonsson, 2003; Kassin, 1997).

The incidence of false confessions in practice is, of course, difficult to assess. However, there exist a disturbing number of documented cases in which defendants confessed (and even were convicted and sentenced to death) but were later exonerated by irrefutable evidence. Leo and Ofshe (1998), for example, reviewed a sample of sixty cases of disputed confession in which a defendant's statement was the only substantive evidence linking him to the crime. Using rather stringent criteria, Leo and Ofshe classified 57% of these cases as "proven false confessions" such that the defendant's innocence was established by independent evidence (e.g., the actual perpetrator was identified through DNA testing), while 30% were classified as "highly probable false confessions" due to considerable evidence indicating that the defendant's statement was false. The remaining 13% of cases were classified as "probable false confessions" given that no significant evidence was present to support the defendant's guilt. Bedau and Radelet (1987) also examined 350 cases of wrongful conviction and observed that 14% (or 49 cases) involved documentation of "false" confession evidence. Similarly, of the first 70 cases of wrongful conviction identified in the United States through DNA testing, 21% (or 15 cases) included confession evidence that was later proven to be "false" (Scheck et al., 2000).

Although there are a number of factors that may contribute to a false confession, the interrogation techniques employed by policing agencies appear to account for a significant proportion of these instances. Clearly, interrogation of a suspect is one of the most difficult tasks in a police investigation. Historically, policing agencies have embraced interrogation practices that have been developed by a number of professional training agencies that are headed by former investigators, and have relied on the developers to ensure that the procedures are both effective and scientifically rigorous. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Psychology of Interrogations and False Confessions: Research and Recommendations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.