According to a new study by researchers at Florida International University, the use of standard interrogation techniques can prompt false confessions by juveniles; the risk is higher with juveniles than with adults.

Dr. LIndsay Malloy, the lead researcher on the study, says that “people need to understand that juvenile suspects are especially vulnerable in the interrogation room,” because “the ways in which we question youth can have potentially devastating consequences in some cases.”

The study by Dr. Malloy and her colleagues, “Interrogations, Confessions, and Guilty Pleas Among Serious Adolescent Offenders.” appears in the journal Law and Human Behavior.  It was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.  Here’s the abstract::

In the present study, we examined (a) the prevalence and characteristics of youths’ true and false admissions (confessions and guilty pleas), (b) youths’ interrogation experiences with police and lawyers, and (c) whether youths’ interrogation experiences serve as situational risk factors for true and false admissions. We interviewed 193 14- to 17-year-old males (M = 16.4) incarcerated for serious crimes. Over 1/3 of the sample (35.2%) claimed to have made a false admission to legal authorities (17.1% false confession; 18.1% false guilty plea), and 2/3 claimed to have made a true admission (28.5% true confession; 37.3% true guilty plea). The majority of youth said that they had experienced high-pressure interrogations (e.g., threats), especially with police officers. Youth who mentioned experiencing “police refusals” (e.g., of a break to rest) were more likely to report having made both true and false confessions to police, whereas only false confessions were associated with claims of long interrogations (>2 hr) and being questioned in the presence of a friend. The number of self-reported high-pressure lawyer tactics was associated with false, but not true, guilty pleas.

According to the researchers, the results call for “specialized trainings for those who interrogate youth, recording interrogations, placing limits on lengthy and manipulative techniques, and exploring alternative procedures for questioning juvenile suspects.”

You can see the full abstract here.  The study supplies yet another set of reasons to examine carefully our interrogation practices, to give up on interrogation for the purpose of getting a confession (instead, use the UK’s PEACE method), and to record all interrogation as a precondition to using them in court.



  1. Ian says:

    Fail to mention the down side of videotaping? (Robert Rios). What down sides? ALL suspect interviews should be visually and audio recorded to minimise opportunity for miscarriage of justice. Equally, only when the term ‘interrogation’ is dumped will ethically robust investigative interviewing prevail. Accounts (including confessions or admissions) should ALWAYS be tested against facts known to the investigation (the ‘scientific’ test).

    • Robert Rios says:

      The downside of video taping is what the jury see, and interpert what they see. When the jury sees a suspect on video for the first time, that first impression is also a lasting impression. Take for instance: the suspect who is a Hell’s Angel member, with long unkept hair, facial jewelry, many tattoos, not well gromed or well spoken and a look of anger and defience on his face. Than the second suspect is clean cut, well dressed, a well spoken man and gives the impression of the All American Boy. The Hells Angel is a criminal with a long criminal history, the All Americal boy is Ted Bundy, Who do you think the jury will favor, just based on appearence? Based on human nature, The All American Boy will win every time. Should someone be judge in a negative lite because of their appearence? I prefer audio recording over video, because with audio you tend to listen to what is being said without visual (video) distractions. The differance between your preception and mine, is you use the video to evaluate the interrogators performance and mine is to insure a fair evaluation of the suspect. I don’t object to video, I only object to how it’s interperted.

  2. Robert Rios says:

    I taught police interrogation in South Florida for more than 30 years. What I find disturbing is that most researchers studying alleged “false” confessions know very little about interrogation techniques. 1st. they start with the premise that all techniques are alike, 2nd. that the interrogator is unfair because they pre-judge the suspect, 3rd. that the UK’s “PEACE” method is better without considering that the “PEACE” method is in conflict with US Law in several 5th Amendment (Marinda), case law, etc. 4th Researchers for the most part have never conducted an interrogation and if they had they would find that each suspect is differant, therefore, each interrogation is also differant (one size does not fit all) Video taping is good but you fail to mention the down side of video taping.

  3. I understand and agree that many interrogation types do lead to false confessions….Many youths especially first time offenders just want to be able to get out of the room use the bathroom or sleep and eat and though many are Not guilty of the crime being questioned for there many be previous crimes they are in fear would be considered worse… the fear factor of panic anxiety fight or flight may have a contributing factor in false confessions…though many confessions do lead to a proper arrest and conviction there are many that are coerced in order to protect loved ones or possibly repercussions from gang leaders…

    • Thanks for the comment. Of course, not all confessions by youths are false; but what the study suggests is that when police use common interrogation techniques against them, there is a higher risk of false confessions than there would be with adults.

      • Robert Rios says:

        Please take into consideration that the term “Confession” in many cases are nothing more than “Admissions”. So allow me to highlite the differance, An “admission” is “I did it” and a confession is “How I did it” so, in effect you now have false confessions and false admissions. Some interrogators never transition from an admission to the confession, therby adding to the overall problem by lumping the two together under the title “FalseConfession”

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