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Man released 10 years after making false confession to NY double murder

A man has been freed 10 years after a false confession that he may have made due to incapacity and fear, which are common factors in false confessions.

To many people in Syracuse, the idea of confessing to a crime despite being innocent may seem incomprehensible. However, false confessions are not uncommon; the Innocence Project reports that self-incriminating admissions, guilty pleas and false confessions were factors in about 30 percent of the known wrongful convictions that have been exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence.

Surprisingly, even people who have been charged with serious crimes can be at risk for making false confessions. Many factors that are known to contribute to false confessions were underscored in a recent case, when a Buffalo man was released from prison 10 years after giving a false confession to a charge of double murder.

A questionable confession

In 2004, the man confessed more than once to the charge, according to The Buffalo News. There were indications, however, that the man’s confession may have been untrue. The homicide detective who investigated the murders questioned the confession after finding that it didn’t fit with the results of the investigation. In 2012, federal prosecutors stated that the man was innocent while indicting three other people for the double murders. The man also eventually recanted his confession.

The exact reasons that the man chose to give a false confession are not known, but The Buffalo News identifies a few potential factors. The man suffers from mental illness and is not a strong English speaker. He was also feeling significant stress and fear at the time of the confession.

Factors in false confessions

According to the Innocence Project, all of these factors can raise a person’s risk of making a false confession after being charged with a crime. Common causes of false confession include the following:

  • Fear – the fear of violence or harsh sentencing terms, which may arise due to direct threats or an accused person’s own beliefs, can incline a person to make a confession in the hope of avoiding these outcomes.
  • Lack of understanding – inadequate understanding of state laws, personal rights or the potential consequences of confessing can also make a person give a false confession.
  • Mental incapacity – temporary incapacity due to intoxication, fatigue or stress can diminish a person’s judgment, resulting in a false confession. Research shows that people with mental illnesses or disabilities are also at a heightened risk for making false confessions, because they often want to accommodate authorities and because authorities may lack training for interrogating these suspects.

Clearly, many of these factors could have played a role in the Buffalo man’s false confession.

Preventing false confessions

The Innocence Project has recommended that law enforcement authorities record all interrogations and confessions. Research has shown that this measure can decrease false confessions and produce more credible confessions. Recording interrogations and interviews of suspects, however, may not always be enough to protect against untrue admissions and confessions.

Before making a confession, anyone facing criminal charges, regardless of the circumstances, can benefit from speaking with a criminal defense attorney. An attorney can offer advice on personal rights and whether speaking with the police is recommended.

Keywords: false, wrongful, confession