When Questioned By Police (And With No Attorney), Some Falsely Confess

For as long as there have been police dramas on TV, there have been dramatic jailhouse confessions – the accused breaks down, sobbing, and admits to the police that yes, he committed the crime. But for many innocent people, the drama of a police interrogation is entirely real, and it’s enough to make even innocent people confess to crimes they never committed.

The Innocence Project, a national organization dedicated to establishing (through DNA testing) the innocence of those wrongly convicted, says that 25 percent of the wrongful convictions it has overturned included false confessions.

Why Would Anyone Make a False Confession?

Experts say that even the best of us may agree to police accounts of events that aren’t true, just to make the questioning stop. Often suspects are told that they can go home as soon as they admit guilt, or that they will be convicted with or without a confession but that their sentence will be more lenient if they confess. Interrogations can go on for hours, with lack of sleep, hunger, and intimidation contributing to an overall feeling of powerlessness on the part of the suspect.

The best way to make the questioning stop is simple: tell the police that you will not be speaking, and demand an attorney. Even after hearing the familiar Miranda warnings (that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney), suspects report that they confessed just to end the questioning and assumed that the truth would come out later. Unfortunately, that often isn’t the case.

Increasingly, states are requiring that law enforcement use audio or video recording to make their interrogations more open and fair; Texas does not. A number of Texas police and sheriff offices do record their interrogations as standard procedure, but they are not required to do so. Regardless of how ideal the questioning may be, it’s important to remember that any statement – true, false, or otherwise – might be used against you in court.

Should you ever be questioned by police, you have the right to have an attorney present to advise you during the questioning. By insisting on this right, you are not just protecting your own legal rights, but you are also helping to hold our justice system to the highest standards. Talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have any further questions.