Interrogation and False Confessions in Rape Cases

I have used the title of a new paper by Prof. Richard Leo.

Of the 1,705 post-conviction DNA and non-DNA exonerations that have occurred from 1989 to the end of 2015, approximately 13 percent of these wrongful convictions were due to false confessions, and virtually all of these occurred in either homicide or rape cases. This chapter discusses why false confessions occur and discusses the ways that law enforcement training can be modified to avoid false confessions. False confessions primarily occur due to a lack of proper training, poor investigative practices, and the use of scientifically invalidated and/or high risk interrogation techniques and strategies. To safeguard against false confessions, the author argues that investigators should receive training on the following topics: 1) the existence, variety, causes and psychology of false confessions; 2) the indicia of reliable and unreliable statements and how to distinguish between them; 3) the need to obtain corroborating evidence to verify suspects’ confessions; and 4) avoidance of inadvertent contamination of interrogations by disclosure of non-public case facts to suspects.

Leo, Richard A., Interrogation and False Confessions in Rape Cases (December 2015). in Robert Hazelwood and Ann Burgess, eds., PRACTICAL ASPECTS OF RAPE INVESTIGATION: A MULTIDISCIPLINARY APPROACH (CRC Press, 5th ed., 2016 Forthcoming); Univ. of San Francisco Law Research Paper . Available at SSRN:

Some points for consideration when seeking to suppress a confession.  General risk factors include:

  • Length of the interrogation.
  • False Evidence. Social science research has shown that false evidence ploys are virtually always present in interrogations leading to false confession, and are substantially likely to increase the risk of eliciting false confessions from innocent suspects.
  • Minimization.
  • Threats and Promises.
  • Individuals who, by their nature and personality, are naive, excessively trusting of authority, highly suggestible and/or highly compliant and who are therefore predisposed to believe that they have no choice but to comply with the demands of authorities or who simply lack the psychological resources to resist the escalating pressures of accusatorial interrogation.
  • Contamination is the leakage or disclosure to a suspect of non-public case facts that are not likely guessed by chance.
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