In his book, "How the Police Generate False Confessions," written by former Washington, D.C., homicide detective James Trainum, the ex-police officer provides a firsthand perspective of tactics used in securing confessions. He notes that far too many criminal cases involve innocent people making admissions of guilt.
Trainum claims that this seemingly impossible phenomenon is all too possible, if not based in reality. Based on data provided by the National Registry of Exonerations, 234 false confessions accounted for 12 percent of the 1,900 wrongful convictions. Fifteen percent of suspects falsely admitting to a crime plead guilty.
False confessions mostly come from unethical tactics employed by law enforcement. Many times, officers have simply jumped to the conclusion that a suspect is guilty, blocking them from any attempt to deny the allegation. Those who have had minimal training will often resort to corrupt behavior to close a criminal case. Examples include:
- Alleging that a suspect failed a polygraph
- Claiming an eyewitness identified them
- Falsely telling the suspect that strong evidence exists against them
- Suggesting moral or psychological justifications for the alleged crime
The question remains. Why would people not guilty of a crime claim responsibility?
According to Trainum, suspects do their own cost-benefit analysis when subject to interrogation. Their assumption is that a confession means they can go home. At the very worst, they will face lesser charges. Some have a more altruistic approach in protecting other people.
Trainum admits that police often secure confessions from people actually guilty of a crime. However, he encourages detectives, defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges to be aware of potentially false confessions and take extra measures to either corroborate or disprove those claims.