Social Status Not Linked to Criminal Confessions

This research study attempted to understand the factors that persuade an offender to make a confession to the police about the crime that he committed. Police reports and offenders’ self-reports of 221 prisoners from a Canadian Jail were analyzed. The primary reason for an offender deciding to confess is the perception of strong evidence against him. The criminological, social and other demographic aspects significantly impacted the decision to confess, in the absence of substantial evidence to prove the crime.

The critical nature of offenders’ confessions in the success of a criminal investigation is well proven. Lately, comprehension and detection of false confessions have been in focus. “It is noticeable that there is a gap between the current knowledge of the factors playing a role on the offender’s decision to confess and the key role of confession in a successful police investigation.” The present study examines the factors that influence the offender’s decision to confess a crime. It is also hypothesized that the offender’s decision-making process to confess or not is different, depending on whether police evidence against the suspect is strong or weak.

* A total of 254 convicted offenders who had received a federal sentence of more than two years were asked to complete a questionnaire related to socio-demographic characteristics, offender’s criminal history and a context of interrogation that they were subjected to. Cross verification confirmed the authenticity of the data collected.
* Clear data without ambiguity could be obtained from 221 surveys. This was analyzed statistically for interpreting the findings.

* Forty-five percent of the study population had confessed their crime and over 50 percent had not.
* The main impetus for the decision to confess was strong police evidence in almost all the cases. Among social factors that contributed to making a confession, ethnicity was non-significant, while marital status and age was significant (if married and older, more confessed).
* A majority of the offenders who confessed did not avail legal services and felt guilty of their crime.
* The likelihood of confessing increased with the seriousness of crime. However, offenders with prior history of crime were less forthcoming in their confessions.

Next steps/Shortcomings
This was a cross sectional and retrospective study based on self reporting of facts, which is subject to bias. Besides, the possibilities of unfair conviction, false confessions and similar drawbacks within the sample population were not scrutinized, as those were kept out of the scope of study. The techniques of persuasion used by the interviewer to encourage an offender to confess have also not been included in the statistics. The scope of the study can grow expansively by including suspects who were not convicted.

The results of this study present the crucial nature of police evidence in convincing an offender to confess. This finding should encourage the police to gather supportive evidence through investigation and prepare the case well before interrogating the suspect. On the other hand, the study also raises apprehensions regarding possible manipulation of proof by the police and subsequently gaining false confessions. The study emphatically states that social status and position of the offender have less influence on the decision to confess, while factors like a guilty conscience, absence of legal advice and being first-time convicts have a greater impact on choosing to make a confession.

For More Information:
Confession of Their Crime: Factors Influencing the Offenders Decision to Confess to the Police
Publication Journal: Justice Quarterly, October 2009
By Nadine Deslauriers-Varin; Patrick Lussier; School of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.
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