What Happens When You Confess to a Crime You Didn’t Commit?

What Happens When You Confess to a Crime You Didn’t Commit?

Confessions create a lot of problems for your defense lawyer. Many jurors believe that nobody who is innocent would ever confess to a crime they didn’t commit.

That assumption is incorrect, of course. False confessions happen more often than you might think. In a 2013 amicus brief, the APA noted that scientific evidence demonstrates that standard police procedure is in itself a risk factor for eliciting false confessions. Research and an increasing roster of wrongfully convicted people has only strengthened their argument.

So, if you’ve confessed, what can an experienced defense attorney do about it?

Suppressing Confessions

A confession is like any other piece of evidence. Under certain circumstances, a Motion to Suppress may ensure the jury never hears about the confession.

The Motion to Suppress will be successful if the attorney can show that the confession was unlawful or involuntary. The courts classify several sorts of behavior as tending to lead towards involuntary confessions.

These include:

  • Confessions obtained after the suspect has invoked the right to an attorney.
  • Threats to beat or otherwise physically harm the suspect.
  • Confessions obtained after the police have physically harmed the suspect.
  • Suspect is denied rights to use the bathroom, or denied access to food and water.
  • Interrogations that take an excessive amount of time.
  • In some cases, confessions obtained while the suspect is drunk or drugged, if your attorney can prove you were unable to think clearly or voluntarily waive your rights.  

The court will  also look closely at minors who confess without a lawyer/parent present, as well as individuals who have mental or learning challenges that impact their ability to understand their rights.   

Keep in mind the police are allowed, in many circumstances, to lie to any suspect, and they can tell the suspect they will take any action they may not have the right to take.

New York’s Taped Confession Law

As you might have noticed, many of these factors are subjective, and whether a confession will be seen as involuntary or not depends a great deal on the disposition and opinions of the judge.

New York has attempted to clarify the validity of confessions by requiring law enforcement to record video of any confession they take. They must record the Miranda warning, note the number of people in the room and their identities, ensure all footage is time and date stamped, and make notes about any tech challenges that come along.

Unfortunately there are some indications that this law is full of loopholes. Nothing stops the police from working on a subject for hours, and then starting the tape when the suspect is ready to confess. 

What if your attorney can’t suppress the confession?

The next step may be to call expert witnesses to the stand who can testify that confessions are not a reliable source of evidence. This can help the jury understand that innocent people do confess, and do so for a variety of reasons. While the evidence remains damning, this tactic may nevertheless mitigate and, sometimes, eliminate the damage. From there, the attorney will have to refute the prosecutor’s case in an effort to demonstrate your innocence.  

So if you’ve confessed, don’t despair. Your case isn’t over yet. You just need to find a highly experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you turn things around.

See also:

What is the Definition of Police Misconduct in NYC?

Can You Really Get My Criminal Case Dismissed?

5 Dumb Moves to Avoid When You’re Facing Criminal Charges in NYC