Unreliable and false confessions

A mentally disordered suspect in a police station (including those who enter the station as a witness or victim) is disadvantaged within the criminal justice process. He may unwittingly provide information which is unreliable, misleading, or self-incriminating. The issue has become one of extreme importance and sensitivity. Unreliable or false confessions have been at the centre of a series of miscarriages of justice in England that resulted in the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. ^M57and ^

False confessions of three types have been identified by Gudjonsson. (156)

• Voluntary false confessions: the individual goes voluntarily to the police and confesses to a crime he knows he has not committed, usually to satisfy a pathological need for notoriety. A psychiatric disorder such as depression, schizophrenia, or a personality disorder may be present.

• Coerced compliant false confessions: these are elicited during persuasive interrogation and are known to be false by the suspect, but are offered for an immediate gain, for instance a promise of release.

• Coerced internalized false confessions: these occur in two situations. First, where a suspect with amnesia (e.g. alcohol-related) is brought to a position of believing he committed a crime he did not do. Second, where subtle manipulation by a questioner convinces an innocent suspect that he committed the crime. Psychiatric factors in the suspect, such as a learning disability or states of anxiety, confusion, guilt, or bereavement are commonly present in this type of false confession.

The codes of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 require that mentally disordered suspects (including those with a learning disability) should be interviewed in the presence of an appropriate adult. The role of the appropriate adult is regarded by many as unclear and unsatisfactory. fy5,9)

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