Juveniles are more likely than adults to confess to crimes they didn't commit, a recent study shows, and defense lawyers say added protections are needed to protect juvenile defendants from falsely incriminating themselves if they are accused of criminal activity.

Even among adults, false confessions occur far more often than many people may realize. According to the Center for Wrongful Convictions, false confessions are a factor in about 14 percent of cases in which a person has been convicted of a crime and later cleared of the charges. In exoneration cases involving juvenile defendants, false confessions were even more common, playing a role in 38 percent of those convictions.

These statistics rely on data from the National Registry of Exonerations, a database maintained by the CWC that tracks confirmed cases of wrongful conviction in every state. It currently contains information from more than 1,200 exonerations that have occurred over the past 25 years. In most of these cases, the convicted individual was freed after the discovery of new DNA evidence that implicated someone else in the alleged crime. They served an average of 10 years in prison before being released.

Why are juveniles more likely to give false confessions?

Criminal justice experts have identified a number of factors that may increase the chances that a person accused of a crime will falsely incriminate him or herself. Regardless of age, the risk of false confession increases if:

  • The defendant is subjected to physical violence during the interrogation process.
  • The defendant believes there is a threat of physical violence, regardless of whether the threat is real or perceived.
  • The defendant does not understand the law applicable to his or her situation.
  • The defendant is intoxicated or has a diminished mental capacity.
  • The defendant misunderstands the facts of the situation.

Among juveniles, certain other risk factors may make false confessions even more likely to occur. For example, because children and teens are often more impulsive than adults, they may be more likely than older individuals to incriminate themselves as a way of putting a stop to the interrogation, hoping that it will allow them to go home. In addition, because juveniles may be less informed of their legal rights and the potential consequences of self incrimination, they may falsely believe that they will be able to "sort it out later" if they offer a false confession.

Help kids protect themselves

Parents can help protect their children from the risk of self incrimination by talking to them about what to do if they are ever accused of being involved in criminal activity. Just like with adults, it is important for juveniles to understand that they have a right to remain silent if they are questioned by police, and that they should insist on speaking with an attorney right away if they are taken into custody. If your son or daughter has been accused of a criminal offense, be sure to get help right away from an experienced juvenile defense attorney in your area.

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