News 10.16.15

Why are Youth Susceptible to False Confessions?

Did you know that of the 330 DNA-based exonerations in this country, more than 25% of the cases involved false confessions and, in many cases, the confessions were made by youth? In 2013, the National Registry of Exonerations reported that in the past 25 years, 38% of the exonerations of crimes allegedly committed by youth involved false confessions. On Wednesday, Illinois Public Radio’s “State of the State” podcast examined the issue of false confessions by youth and spoke with experts Laura Nirider and Locke Bowman from Northwestern University’s Law School about why even common interrogation techniques lead youth to confess to crimes they didn’t commit.

According to both Nirider and Bowman, the reason that standard interrogations often result in juvenile false confessions is simple: standard interrogation tactics—coercion, false promises of leniency, deception about evidence—are intended for adults, not kids.

“These techniques are so powerful—they’re designed for seasoned adult criminals. If you use them against a child or a teenager, they’re likely to increase the risk of a false confession,” explains Nirider, director of the Center on Wrongful Confessions of Youth at Northwestern University’s Law School,

Bowman, director at the MacArthur Justice Center at Northwestern University’s Law School, questions the entire basis of youth being put through criminal interrogations. According to Bowman, too many factors automatically make youth more susceptible to buckling under the unrelenting pressure of tough interrogation practices, and making a false confession.

Bowman says: “The interrogation process is inherently coercive. It is psychologically difficult for even for strong, intelligent people to withstand. And when you are imposing those techniques on an individual who is young, who is intellectually vulnerable, the capacity of the person to withstand the process is easily overcome.”  

To listen to the podcast, click

here

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To learn more about false confessions among youth, read

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