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Innocence Is Not Quite What It Used To Be

Posted on by Townsend Myers

Photo by Dima Bushkov

Have you ever admitted guilt when you were innocent? Then I’m assuming you’re married — but don’t feel bad, it seems we’re hard-wired for this type of confession.

But seriously folks….

Researchers are finding out just how easy it is to get innocent people to confess to crimes they did not commit – even if these confessions could cost them money and are easily disproved. Insert a bit of doubt, throw at them an accusation with the threatening specter of corroborating evidence and viola! A confession.

The Economist recently chronicled how researchers have found it “surprisingly easy to make people fess up to invented misdemeanors.”

Admittedly, a laboratory exercise doesn’t carry the same consequences as an interrogation or court room, but you’d be surprised at how accurately researchers can recreate these pressure environments (ever heard of the Stanford Prison Experiments?). An allegation leveled by an authoritative figure carrying unpleasant consequences in an unfamiliar, intimidating, seemingly inescapable setting can bring about an alarmingly high percentage of false confessions.

Why? Some conclude that our shortsighted desire to escape such an unsettling interrogation, even if it guarantees future consequences, overrides our desire for absolution. Another possible explanation is that too many people believe in the justness of our society and that authorities will overturn their confession based on an ongoing investigation. There are 271 American citizens who can assure you that this is not true.

The Innocence Project has been instrumental in exonerating 271 innocent people, some who had served decades or who were on death row. Though they had been completely exonerated by DNA evidence, still surprisingly one in four of these innocent people had confessed or pleaded guilty — close to the number influenced by researchers. It seems that the possession of truth is stronger in the accuser than the defendant, and that is a troubling thought.

This seems like an opportune moment to remind my readers that the best advice I can give you is keep quiet! Do NOT talk to law enforcement if you find yourself in a bind. You will not be able to talk yourself out of getting arrested or taken to jail, and I promise, your statement will hurt your case. Read more at What Do I Do If I Get Arrested?



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