Teens and false confessions

A 16-year-old who was drunk while under investigation told law enforcement that he played a role in the fatal shooting of a man in Los Angeles. According to The Wall Street Journal, the teenager told investigators that he drove the getaway car after the crime occurred. However, as a Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer would do, the young man’s attorneys reviewed the evidence and determined that the teenager was four miles away from the scene of the crime just one minute before the shooting. As a result, the prosecution dropped the charges.

A false confession is a problem among defendants of all ages, but research shows it is more likely to occur among juveniles. People in Minnesota and across the country who are accused of a crime should understand why and how the phenomenon occurs.

How it happens

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a false confession was involved in 38 percent of cases in which a youth was later exonerated of a crime, compared to only 11 percent of cases involving adults. Part of the reason that juveniles may be more likely to admit to a crime they never committed is because they tend to be more impulsive and focused on short-term gratification. For example, they may believe that if they confess to a crime, they can go home.

The Innocence Project reports that there are several reasons that innocent people of all ages may make false confessions, including the following:

  • A diminished capacity to continue with the interrogation
  • Not understanding the situation
  • Not understanding the law
  • Intoxication
  • A fear of violence or a harsh sentence
  • Actual physical violence

In some cases, the mental state of the person under questioning can also account for an inaccurate confession, particularly youths. As a Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer understands, juveniles may be easier to manipulate than adults.

Avoiding the problem

The Innocence Project and a number of other organizations have pushed for reform when it comes to interrogating youth in order to prevent a false confession. Part of that includes keeping the investigative sessions short as well as taping the questioning. The entire state of Minnesota has already joined hundreds of jurisdictions across the country in recording law enforcement interrogations. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that part of a defendant’s due process is to have a custodial questioning recorded.

Studies have shown that recordings can be effective when the entire interrogation is caught on tape. Not only does it give a court the complete picture of how the confession was obtained, but law enforcement members who are taped also may act more appropriately when dealing with teens and criminal charges. For example, The Wall Street Journal reports that a 17-year-old who falsely confessed to a double murder in 1992 did so because he said he wanted law enforcement to stop hitting him with a flashlight.

A Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer may be able to help defendants pursue justice if they feel their confession was coerced.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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