Interrogations can lead to false confessions by juveniles, study finds

Juveniles may be particularly vulnerable to falsely admitting guilt, according to a study led by Florida International University psychologist Lindsay C. Malloy. The findings were published this week in the American Psychological Association’s journal Law and Human Behavior.

The study sheds light on the interrogations, confessions and guilty pleas of adolescents incarcerated in the United States, a largely under-studied area in the U.S. legal system.

More than one third of the study’s participants claimed to have made a false admission to legal authorities. Most false admissions reportedly were made to protect someone else or to lessen punishment. According to the study, long interrogations and being questioned in the presence of a friend increased the risk for false confessions.

“People need to understand that juvenile suspects are especially vulnerable in the interrogation room,” Malloy said. “The ways in which we question youth can have potentially devastating consequences in some cases.”

Funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, the study examined true and false admissions of guilt among 193 serious male offenders between the ages of 14 and 17 and focused on admissions with potentially serious legal consequences – those made to police officers and judges. It also looked at the adolescents’ interrogation experiences and the techniques associated with false admissions.

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