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Evidence suggests false confessions more common among juveniles

A growing body of evidence is suggesting that juveniles may be more likely than adults to confess to a crime they did not commit. Knowing this, there is a push for police, the courts and state legislators to put more thought into how juvenile interrogations are conducted.

Steven Drizen, with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, said the issue is juveniles are not only vulnerable, but they are more impulsive. This can lead to a juvenile confessing in the hopes of just being able to go home.  

However, a false confession is clearly not good for anyone as it means police are wasting their time with the wrong person while the real criminal remains free. False confessions can also lead to convictions and consequences for innocent juveniles.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations database, of those under the age of 18 who have been exonerated in the past quarter century, 38 percent of the cases involved false confessions. In terms of adult exonerations, only 11 percent involved false confessions. 

Even in 2011 the Supreme Court made note that juveniles are more likely to falsely confess than adults. 

Take for example the recent case involving a 16-year-old who admitted to being the getaway driver in a murder. He confessed to the crime even though convenience store video showed the 16-year-old was four miles away just one minute before the fatal shooting.

In this case, the charges against the teen were dropped. However, the concern is that the teen -- who was drunk at the time and said he just wanted to go home and see his daughter -- was coerced by a police officer into confessing to the crime. 

Realizing the vulnerable state of juveniles accused of crimes, the hope is more is done to prevent these false confessions. 

One promising action is the fact the International Association of Chiefs of Police has made recommendations on how to question juveniles. These recommendations include avoiding the leading questions, deception, promises of leniency and long interrogations that are often used with adults. 

Source: Wall Street Journal, "False Confessions Dog Teens," Zusha Elinson, Sept. 8. 2013. 

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