Birmingham juvenile criminal defense lawyers recognize that a person accused of a crime he did not commit is far more likely to falsely confess to that crime if he’s 15 as opposed to 51.
A recent Wall Street Journal article explored the issue of why youth are more prone to admission of acts in which they had no part, and what protections should be in place to limit that risk.
In exploring the exoneration of 1,155 individuals improperly convicted of serious crimes over the last quarter century, those who were juveniles at the time of their convictions were far more likely to have confessed to the crimes. This was true in 38 percent of the cases reviewed, even though indisputable scientific proof would later show that there was no way they could have been involved in the crimes of which they were accused.
Now compare that to the exoneration of those who were adults at the time of conviction. In those cases, just 11 percent involved a false confession.
So why is there is such a disparity?
First and foremost, juveniles tend to be more trusting of police officers. They are more deferential to authority. They don’t want to cross an officer. They also may not realize or fully appreciate that police can – and often do – mislead or outright lie to suspects in order to obtain confessions.
Officers may indicate codefendants have implicated the juvenile, when in fact they have not. They may untruthfully indicate that the defendant will receive a more lenient sentence if he or she will simply confess. A youth who has been raised to be trusting of authority may fully believe everything the officer is saying, unable to discern the officer’s true motive.
If there are enough of these misrepresentations in the course of questioning, it’s possible that a good defense attorney could successfully have the confession thrown out on those grounds. But that’s no given.
Another reason juveniles may be more prone to false confessions is that they tend to be far more impulsive. An officer tells the teen if he just confesses, he can go home. He may figure that no matter what he says, this officer isn’t going to believe him and he really does just want to go home. So, he confesses – not realizing the consequences of such an admission.
In light of how common false confessions are among juvenile suspects, there are more than a few criminal reformers who are lobbying for legislation that would shield accused youthful offenders from such tactics. One proposed solution is to have all juvenile interrogations filmed and made available to both sides for analysis prior to court.
Of course, many prosecutors and police are not thrilled about this prospect, saying it undercuts their ability to extract confessions, which can be an important tool in securing a conviction. But that is exactly the point: Extra precautions should be taken to preserve the integrity and transparency of the process simply because it is so important.
In the end, such protections might mean that police obtain fewer confessions from juvenile suspects. However, it might just mean that the confessions they do obtain are more reliable.