Unspeakable Times
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Why Do Innocent People Confess To Crimes They Didn't Commit?

Updated July 22, 2019 12.2k views11 items

There are more innocent people who pleaded guilty than you might think. It seems mind-boggling that anyone would confess if they haven't actually done anything wrong. So who are these innocent people who confessed to crimes, and why do people confess to crimes they didn't commit?

Arrested individuals make false confessions for a variety of reasons, though unfair circumstances and abuse figure in many cases. If you're vulnerable and being treated inhumanely while being questioned, there's a good chance you'll say anything just to have it all be over. But that's the problem - it's not over. False confessions often lead to years in prison and even the execution of guiltless parties. So why do innocent people confess to crimes? Usually because they're forced to, because they feel like they have no other choice. But once that admission of guilt is out there, it's hard to take it back.

  • They're Forced Into Compliance

    After 14 to 30 hours of interrogation, you'd probably confess, too. That's exactly what happened to the Central Park Five. Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise confessed to the rape of a female jogger in Central Park in 1989. They later recanted their stories, saying that they had only confessed because they were worn down and forced to by the police. In fact, a serial rapist was later found guilty of the crime with the help of DNA. The wrongfully imprisoned men received a $41 million settlement because of their treatment.

  • They're Faced With A Harsh Sentence

    Photo: Relic Photo / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Plea bargains can tempt false confessions. In 1990, Michael Phillips was misidentified in a photo line up for the rape of a 16-year-old girl. But because he was black and the victim was white, he worried that a jury wouldn't believe his innocence. Rather than risk a longer sentence, he plead guilty and received 12 years in prison. Phillips ended up serving 24: he was finally exonerated when another man's semen was matched to the rape kit in 2014.

  • They Want The Fame

    Photo: BuzzFeedBlue / via YouTube

    Some cases really catch the public eye, and that makes them magnets for false confessions. Maybe people want to become famous for being associated with the crime, or perhaps they're just obsessed.

    Whatever the reason, crimes like the infamous Black Dalia murder in 1947 led to multiple false confessions. One of the men who confessed, Daniel S. Voorhees, insisted he was guilty of the murder. But his story fell flat when he couldn't pick the victim, Elizabeth Short, out of a lineup of photographs.

  • They're Just Too Young

    Photo: Stein3x / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Children are sometimes put in incredibly tense situations, and they don't always understand the consequences. When 16-year-old Felix was brought in for the 2005 shooting of Antonio Ramirez and questioned without a lawyer, he slowly went along with interrogators. He picked up pieces of what they said had happened and used them in his confession, even claiming to have left the gun at his grandfather's (though he didn't have a living grandfather).

    Studies have shown that children are more likely to give false confessions than adults. They are also more likely to think that going along with the interrogators will lead to them getting released, while maintaining innocence and disagreeing will lead to them getting jailed.