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Why do innocent people confess to crimes?

In theory, the criminal justice system exists to punish those who commit offenses. Unfortunately, it does not always work out this way. Innocent people often end up with criminal records. One way this happens is by false confessions. In fact, about 30% of wrongful convictions overturned because of DNA evidence involve false confessions. 

The idea of an innocent person confessing to a criminal offense may sound strange, but it happens frequently and for understandable reasons. Here are some explanations behind wrongful confessions. 


Some people confess to crimes out of a desire to comply with law enforcement. This is often due to real or perceived intimidation or threat. Sometimes, people confess out of fear of repercussions from law enforcement, whether there is an actual threat or not. In certain cases, law enforcement officials utilize unfair and brutal interrogation techniques to force a confession. Another motivating factor in some instances is the desire to gain some type of reward in return for the confession. 

Compromised reasoning

Certain false confessions are a result of people believing they are guilty without any actual recollection of the crime. This internalized belief of guilt often occurs because of the following reasons:

  • Confusion and exhaustion after interrogations
  • Exposure to false information
  • Lack of knowledge about rights
  • Educational or mental limitations

Younger, poorly educated and mentally ill suspects are often more susceptible to falsely confessing to criminal activity.  


It may be surprising to learn that several false confessions are completely voluntary. Sometimes, people make false confessions out of a desire to became famous, protect the real criminal or relieve guilt over past crimes. Additionally, some may have trouble distinguishing reality from fiction. 

The fact that so many innocent people can end up behind bars is a travesty. One way to stop this from happening is by requiring recording of interrogations. Illinois requires recording of certain investigations. 

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Notable Results

  • Accusation: Attempt First Degree Murder
  • Facing: 30 years in prison at 85%
  • Result: Post-conviction petition granted
  • Accusation: Solicitation of a Prostitute, Obstructing Justice, Battery
  • Facing: 365 days in jail, loss of legal residence
  • Result: All charges but battery dropped, one year expungeable supervision
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