Research points to a high risk of false confessions among N.J. juveniles

Juveniles may be likelier to give false confessions than adults. This risk should be taken into account during juvenile interrogations as well as trials.

A confession is often seen as one of the most incontrovertible forms of evidence in a criminal case. However, false confessions are actually a fairly common cause of wrongful convictions in Cranford, New Jersey, and other areas. The Innocence Project states that in about one out of four convictions proven wrongful through DNA evidence, the accused individual provided a false confession or self-incriminating statement.

Troublingly, the risk of these confessions and associated wrongful convictions may be even higher among young people who have been accused of crimes. It's critical for this danger to be weighed any time that children or teenagers in New Jersey are arrested, interrogated or brought to trial for alleged juvenile offenses.

Troubling false confession rates

According to The Wall Street Journal, wrongful juvenile convictions that involve false confessions are much more common than wrongful adult convictions involving the same factor. One database of exonerations made over the past 25 years shows that a shocking 38 percent of exonerated juveniles made false confessions. In contrast, just 11 percent of the exonerated adults included in the database gave false confessions.

Underlying factors

In general, several factors can put people at risk for providing authorities with a false confession, according to the Innocence Project. These include:

  • Accused individuals may have trouble thinking clearly during an interrogation or remembering what happened previously, due to exhaustion, intoxication, stress and other mental factors.
  • Threats of physical punishment or harsh legal consequences may cause some people to think that giving a false confession is their best option.
  • Still other people may falsely confess because they don't fully understand their legal rights or the situation as a whole.

Unfortunately, juveniles may be particularly susceptible to these factors. Children and teenagers can be manipulated more easily than adults, and they are less likely to understand their rights. Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal notes that children are more likely to defer to authorities, act impulsively or get caught up in short-term outcomes. Therefore, a juvenile might give a false confession while thinking of an immediate benefit, such as ending the interrogation, without fully considering the long-term consequences.

Juvenile interrogation issues

Given these facts, it is essential for juvenile interrogation laws and procedures to reflect the potential for false confessions. In New Jersey, authorities are required to make a good faith effort to locate a juvenile's parents or guardians and have at least one present during the interrogation. However, potentially unreliable confessions made in the absence of a parent or guardian can still be used in court. Furthermore, the presence of one of these parties does not guarantee that a false confession will not occur.

To reduce the risk of this adverse outcome, juveniles who have been arrested in connection with an alleged crime may benefit from speaking to an attorney. An attorney may be able to provide advice on other legal strategies or prevent a juvenile from making decisions that may harm his or her case.