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People May Be Convinced to Plead Guilty to Crimes They Didn’t Commit

Mar 24, 2017 by Mike McKneely in Criminal Defense

There is a common misconception that no one would confess to a crime if they were innocent. However, human psychology can be very complicated and law enforcement often use interrogation techniques that entice innocent people to make false confessions.

An international study has even provided research evidence showing that it is possible to convince innocent adults that they had previously committed serious crimes. The danger of an induced confession is very real, and it emphasizes the importance of having a qualified Fresno criminal defense attorney protecting your rights and defending your innocence from the moment you become part of a criminal investigation.

It is Possible to Create False Memories of Committing Crimes

A study conducted through research in Canada and Great Britain and later detailed in an article published in a scientific journal for the Association for Psychological Science provides evidence that it is possible to convince adults that they committed a crime while in their teens. The study involved 60 university students who had not been involved in any crimes and their caregivers from their teenage years. Over the course of three 40 minute interviews, researchers attempted to implant false memories into the students’ minds of incidents while they were in their teens. Thirty of the innocent students were told that they had committed a crime such as assault or theft while they were younger. Shockingly, over 70 percent of the students were found to have developed a false memory of the crime they were told they committed. Some of the students even reported elaborate details of dealings with the police that never occurred.

How False Memories Were Created

The way researchers created the false memories of these crimes were surprisingly simple. The researchers obtained detailed information about the students’ lives from their caregivers without the student’s knowledge. Then during the first of the 40-minute interviews, the students were told about two incidents that happened during the student’s teenage years, one of which was entirely false. In detailing the false story, the researcher incorporated some true details from the students’ lives which had been previously obtained from the caregivers. During the second and third interviews, the students were asked to provide as much detail as possible about the two incidents that were explained in the first interview. The researchers found that the students’ false memories of committing a crime were similar to their descriptions of both true events and false memories of noncriminal events.

Law Enforcement Uses Similar Techniques

The ease in which researchers were able to create false memories of committing a crime is especially concerning since law enforcement interrogations can sometimes use similar techniques. Of particular concern is the use of what is called the “Reid technique” while interrogating suspects.

When utilizing the Reid technique, law enforcement interrogators operate with the assumption that a suspect is guilty and look to create a narrative about what happened. In creating this narrative, the interrogator can sometimes lie about details or tell the suspect about incriminating evidence that does not exist. Critics of the Reid technique claim that it can produce false confessions and one Canadian judge described it as “a guilt-presumptive, confrontational, psychologically manipulative procedure whose purpose is to extract a confession.” It has been found to create situations where it is entirely rational for a person to lie (and thus falsely confess) to end the interrogation, especially under the often used ploy that the suspect will then be free to leave.

How a Fresno Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

Considering the surprising ease in which researchers were able to create false memories of committing a crime it becomes understandable how an innocent suspect who is subjected to multiple interrogations utilizing similar techniques could confess to a crime. The research also underscores the necessity of having an experienced Fresno criminal defense attorney present any time that you are questioned by law enforcement. Having a knowledgeable attorney on your side can help keep you from the kind of confusion that leads to the creation of false memories. Whenever you are questioned by the police you must affirmatively, and unequivocally, say “I want my lawyer.”

Attorney Michael McKneely is a skilled Fresno criminal defense attorney who has also worked as a Deputy District Attorney, so he is familiar with the techniques used by prosecutors and law enforcement.

If you’re accused of a crime, protect yourself and your rights. Call Michael McKneely, Criminal Defense Lawyer at (559) 443-7442 or contact us online in order to set up a free consultation.

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