According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 23% of overturned homicide cases involved a false confession. As of 2018, 280 people have had their convictions overturned based, at least in part, on false confessions. Cases such as that of Henry Lee McCollum, a 19-year old with I/DD, who falsely confessed to the rape and murder of a child under intense police interrogation, demonstrate that people with I/DD and mental illness are uniquely susceptible to false confessions.
How Interrogations Work
In the book Representing People with Mental Disabilities, William C. Follette, Richard Leo, and Deborah Davis note in their chapter on False Confessions:
“The first goal of an interrogator is to question the suspect freely. To accomplish this and other goals, it is best not to raise resistance in the suspect to being questioned or to the interrogator. The interrogator may attempt to question the suspect, while not informing him or her that or she is suspected of the crime. Sometimes police ask people to come in for an interview to ‘help them’ with the investigation, but with no clarification about whether the person is actually a suspect or merely someone providing ‘helpful’ information this strategy also helps avoid the necessity of administering Miranda warnings that might make clear one’s status as a suspect and raise unwanted resistance. These are only required if the suspect is under arrest or would reasonably not feel free to refuse questioning. In many cases an interrogator can successfully proceed from the seemingly friendly ‘helping with the investigation’ phase of questioning into a long accusatory interrogation that results in a confession before Miranda rights are brought up.”
What Factors Can Lead to a False Confession?
If you or a loved one with an intellectual or developmental disability has been arrested or convicted of a crime, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Elizabeth Kelley specializes in representing individuals with mental illnesses and intellectual and developmental disabilities. To schedule a consultation call (509) 991-7058.