In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section False and Coerced Confessions

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • The Psychology of False and Coerced Confessions
  • Types of Confessions
  • Laboratory Studies
  • Field Studies
  • Aggregated Case Studies
  • Deception Detection
  • Miranda
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Interrogation Law
  • Confessions in the Courtroom
  • Confession Experts in the Courtroom
  • Perceptions and Beliefs about Confessions
  • Videotaping Interrogations
  • Inquisitorial Interviewing
  • Military Interrogations and Torture
  • International Interrogation Practices

Criminology False and Coerced Confessions
Jeremy Shifton, Robert J. Norris, Allison D. Redlich
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0087


In the past two decades, the scholarly interest in and literature on false and coerced confessions has grown tremendously. In large part, this growth is due to the uncovering of hundreds of factually innocent persons wrongly convicted because of false confessions. False confessions are statements made inside or outside the interrogation context that implicate the individual in a crime that he or she did not commit. False confessions can be made voluntarily or through coercion. Coerced confessions are statements that may be true or false but were not made by one’s own free will. In the United States, confessions are only admissible if they were made voluntarily. Most of the extant research has focused on false, as opposed to coerced, confessions. However, in understanding why an innocent person would claim responsibility for a crime she or he did not commit, it is also possible to understand why a guilty person would do so in the face of coercive interrogation tactics. False and coerced confessions have been studied using a variety of methodologies. The research has not only focused on how these confessions come about but also on related topics, such as their weight in the courtroom, the ability to recognize them, and reforms designed to reduce their occurrence.

General Overviews

The number of general overviews of police interrogation and confessions continues to amass. Leo 2008 provides a comprehensive overview focusing on US practices and policies, while Feld 2013 focuses on practices relating to juveniles. Lassiter 2004 and Lassiter and Meissner 2010 cover a variety of relevant topics written by leaders in the field. Ofshe and Leo 1997 explains the decision to confess for guilty and innocent suspects. Davis and Leo 2012 introduces a new concept to explain how people succumb to pressures to confess. The article by Kassin, et al. 2010 represents a scientific consensus paper on police-induced confessions, culminating in suggested reforms for prevention. Kassin 2012 reviews why confessions can be so weighty to triers of fact. Wakefield and Underwager 1998 discusses coerced as well as false confessions.

  • Davis, Deborah, and Richard A. Leo. 2012. Interrogation-related regulatory decline: Ego depletion, failures of self-regulation, and the decision to confess. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 18:673–704.

    DOI: 10.1037/a0027367

    This study introduces the concept of “interrogation-related regulatory decline” (IRRD), defined as the rapidly declining ability of a person to resist pressures placed on them by an interrogation. The authors discuss how current interrogation practices are designed to deplete this resistance. Several interrogation reforms are suggested.

  • Feld, Barry C. 2013. Kids, cops, and confessions: Inside the interrogation room. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    A description of how juveniles are interrogated using actual data from interrogations, court filings, and other criminal justice system documents. Police interrogation methods, Miranda rights waivers, confessions, and other topics are discussed in depth.

  • Kassin, Saul M. 2012. Why confessions trump innocence. American Psychologist 67:431–445.

    The author uses a recent case to illustrate the power that confessions exert on a criminal case. Kassin argues that it is faulty logic to assume confessions are independent pieces of evidence, and explains how requirements for evidence corroboration and harmless error analyses contribute to increased weight given to confessions.

  • Kassin, Saul M., Steven Drizin, Thomas Grisso, Gisli H. Gudjonsson, Richard A. Leo, and Allison D. Redlich. 2010. Police-induced confessions: Risk factors and recommendations. Law and Human Behavior 34:3–38.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10979-009-9188-6

    This scientific “white” paper was sponsored and approved by the American Psychology Law Society (Division 41 of American Psychological Association). It provides a history of confession law in the United States and focuses on police-induced true and false confessions. The paper ends with recommendations to prevent false confessions.

  • Lassiter, G. Daniel, ed. 2004. Interrogations, confessions, and entrapment. New York: Kluwer Academic.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-38598-3

    Provides an excellent overview of many of the topics relevant to interrogations and confessions. Chapter topics include a history of US interrogation practices, confirmation bias, vulnerable populations, and expert testimony.

  • Lassiter, G. Daniel, and Christian A. Meissner, eds. 2010. Police interrogations and false confessions: Current research, practice, and policy recommendations. Washington, DC: APA.

    DOI: 10.1037/12085-000

    The result of a two-day conference on interrogations, includes chapters from leaders in the field. The topics cover the majority of relevant aspects, including lie detection, interrogation of juveniles, videotaping, and Miranda.

  • Leo, Richard A. 2008. Police interrogation and American justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

    A comprehensive overview of police interrogation in the United States, providing an excellent historical description of third-degree interrogation tactics to modern-day psychological techniques. In addition, Leo explains how false confessions and miscarriages of justice can arise. This book is appropriate for general audiences interested in the topic.

  • Wakefield, H., and R. Underwager. 1998. Coerced or nonvoluntary confessions. Behavioral Sciences and the Law 16:423–440.

    DOI: 10.1002/(SICI)1099-0798(199823)16:4<423::AID-BSL319>3.0.CO;2-2

    Provides a succinct overview of confession admissibility, expert testimony, and relations between suggestibility and nonvoluntary confessions. The authors provide four illustrative examples of coerced and false confessions.

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