False confessions put people in jail all the time. While they're often hard for outsiders to understand, they're also far more common than most people realize.
One reason is that people often trust that they're innocent, so they see no problem with talking to the police. "Why not talk? I haven't done anything," they say. "I have nothing to hide. What could possibly go wrong?"
This attitude can lead to crucial mistakes, false confessions and statements that accidentally incriminate themselves. It is far better, in most cases, not to talk to the police.
Studies have found that those who are especially vulnerable or very young are most likely to confess to something that they did not do. Here are some striking statistics that help paint the picture:
- When they looked at 125 confessions that had later been proven to be false, researchers found that a total of 33% of those who confessed where juveniles when they did so.
- Perhaps more concerning is the fact that a minimum of 43% of those who confessed were mentally ill or mentally disabled.
- In a separate study that looked at 340 cases where the individuals were eventually cleared of wrongdoing, researchers discovered that 42% of juveniles would make a false confession, but only 13% of adults would do the same.
- That same study discovered that around 50% of the children who were exonerated after spending time in jail spoke to police without a lawyer and got convicted because of what they said.
If you get arrested, you must be aware of the risk of talking to the police and you must know all of your legal rights.