False confessions may occur at a high rate among wrongly accused juveniles, who are often impulsive, shortsighted and easily manipulated.
Juveniles are known for making decisions that are impulsive, illogical or likely to have harmful long-term consequences. These choices are often attributable to the ongoing development of the juvenile brain. As ABC News notes, issues with impulse control and judgment can make juveniles more likely to commit violence, juvenile sex crimes or other offenses. Unfortunately, these tendencies can also cause juveniles in Salt Lake City to falsely confess to crimes that they did not commit.
The science behind false confessions
The Innocence Project explains that people typically make false confessions when they believe that doing so is the most favorable option available. Wrongly accused people may arrive at this belief when they are faced with threats, duress or coercion. Misunderstanding, intoxication or mental impairment can also put a person at an enhanced risk of giving a false confession.
False confessions are surprisingly common. More than one-quarter of people who have been proven innocent through DNA evidence initially gave false confessions. Sadly, statistics suggest that juveniles facing criminal accusations are significantly more likely to make these confessions than adults.
A prevalent problem for juveniles
Several emotional and intellectual factors may predispose juveniles to give false confessions. According to ABC News and the Innocence Project, these include the following traits and tendencies:
- Juveniles may lack a strong understanding of the situation or the consequences of giving a false confession.
- Juveniles may focus on short-term outcomes, such as ending the interrogation, rather than long-term consequences.
- Juveniles may be more easily manipulated into giving false confessions.
According to The Wall Street Journal, one database of exonerated individuals suggests that the rate of false confessions is alarmingly high among juveniles. Over the last 25 years, 38 percent of juveniles who were exonerated made false confessions, compared to just 11 percent of adults.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police has endorsed several procedural changes to reduce the risk of these false confessions. According to the IACP recommendations, authorities should conduct shorter interrogations and avoid using deceptive or manipulative tactics. Authorities also should record all interrogations. Unfortunately, in many cases, authorities aren’t explicitly required to take these steps.
Precautions during interrogations
In Utah, authorities must follow certain guidelines when interrogating juveniles. Interrogations of juveniles under age 14 must be conducted in the presence of a parent, guardian or legal custodian. Alternately, authorities must obtain the permission of one of these individuals or a court order before conducting any interrogations. Recordings also are recommended during all interrogations of people accused of felony offenses, such as murder or aggravated assault and battery.
Although these guidelines may help reduce the risk of false confessions, they cannot completely eliminate the possibility of these confessions occurring. Consequently, the family members of accused juveniles should consider seeking the assistance of a defense attorney to reduce the risk of this harmful outcome.