This paper reviews the false confession phenomenon, which corresponds to innocent suspects' detailed admissions to crimes they did not commit. The exact incidence rate of false confessions in the criminal justice system is not known and is estimated to be far more than what common sense and documented false confession cases so far would tell. Recent figures showed that they play a causal role in about one fourth of all exonerations, indicating that they are among the leading causes of wrongful convictions of innocent suspects. In this study, the false confession literature was reviewed from various aspects, with a particular focus on psychological dimensions of the problem. Specifically, first, the conceptual framework of false confessions was outlined. Second, the data on the presence and prevalence of false confessions were overviewed and discussed. Third, a number of individual differences or personality traits (i.e. age, suggestibility, compliance, innocence, and cognitive disability/mental retardation) and situational risk factors (i.e. interrogation practices, interrogation settings, investigator biases) that induce innocent people to confess to crimes they did not commit were examined, based on evidence from proven false confession cases, field studies and laboratory experiments. Finally, measures, policy recommendations and reform calls with regards to preventing and/or reducing false confessions were overviewed.
Keywords: False confessions, psychology of false confessions, interrogation techniques, psychological vulnerability, miscarriage of justice