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False Confessions

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What Is a False Confession?

A false confession is where a person admits that they are guilty when in fact they are not responsible for the crime. False confessions can occur through the use of coercion or force to obtain the statement. They may also result from the mental incapacity of the accused person. Although false confessions may seem unlikely, they actually occur regularly and can present many problems during a criminal trial. 

An example of a false confession is where a person admits to a crime in order to divert the court’s attention from the person who actually committed the crime. For example, a person may confess to a crime in order to save their friend who is being accused. False confessions may also be used in attempts to avoid harsh sentences, for example if a person pleads guilty to a lesser offense that they did not actually commit.

There are three general classifications of false confessions:

  • Voluntary confessions: These are false confessions that are made freely, without any prompting or coercions by the police
  • Compliant confessions: These are false confessions that are given in return for a reward, such as when a third party bribes the confessor to take the blame for a crime
  • Internalized confessions: The confessor actually believes that they are guilty of the crime; this may result either from mental disorder or as the result of excessively suggestive interrogation procedures

Are False Confessions Admissible in Court?

False confessions are not admissible in court. If a confession is found to be false, the judge will likely strike the statement from the records and it cannot be used as evidence. Also, the person making the false confession may be subjected to further penalties for lying in court.

If a false confession was obtained through force or violence (“involuntary false confession”), the statement will not be admissible in court. Whether they are true or false, involuntary confessions are inadmissible. 

What happens If a person Is Caught Making a False Confession?

The problem with false confessions is that they can be difficult to detect. Courts employ a variety of mechanisms to detect and deal with false confessions, according to a set of rules known as “confession rules”. If a person is caught offering a false confession, the following consequences may occur:

  • Criminal charges: Depending on when and where the statement was made, and to whom, the person making a false confession may be guilty of the additional crimes of:
    • Perjury
    • Lying to a police officer
  • Contempt: If the false confession causes a disruption in court proceedings or hinders cooperation with the opposite party, a judge may hold the confessor in contempt

Thus, false confessions can constitute a serious obstruction of justice. They may result in monetary fines and possible jail or prison time. 

Do I Need a Lawyer for False Confessions?

If you are being accused of making a false confession, it is important that you contact a criminal defense lawyer. An attorney can help you defend your case in court. Also, you should have an attorney present if you will be subject to interrogation or questioning.  Having a lawyer present can help prevent the occurrence of false confessions. 

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 01-17-2014 02:29 PM PST

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