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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00168

Confessions and denials when guilty and innocent: Forensic patients’ self-reported behavior during police interviews

  • 1Psychologische Hochschule Berlin, Germany
  • 2Institut für Forensische Psychiatrie, Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany
  • 3Klinik für Forensische Psychiatrie, Psychiatrische Universitätsklinik Zürich (PUK), Switzerland

Several self-report studies together with analyses of exoneration cases suggest that suspects with mental impairment are especially prone to making false confessions. The present study asked 153 forensic patients in Germany about their behavior during suspect interviewing by the police. Self-reported ground truth of guilt and innocence was asked for, thereby taking into account that the risk of false confession is present only if a person has ever been interviewed when innocent. Indeed, surveys of samples including suspects who have never been interviewed when innocent may therefore underestimate the risk of false confessions. In the present study, all patients reported having been interviewed previously when guilty, and almost two-thirds (62%; n = 95) indicated that they had also been interviewed at least once when innocent. Participants stated that they remained silent while interviewed significantly more often when guilty (35%) compared to being interviewed when innocent (15%). This corroborates results found in laboratory research indicating that the right to remain silent is waived more often by innocent than guilty suspects. Out of all 95 participants who were ever interviewed when innocent, 25% reported having made a false confession on at least one occasion. This result is in line with previous international research showing a high percentage of false confessions among suspects with mental impairment.

Keywords: false confession, Police interview, suspect, interrogation, Forensic patients, denial, self-report, mental illness

Received: 24 Sep 2018; Accepted: 07 Mar 2019.

Edited by:

Birgit A. Völlm, University of Rostock, Germany

Reviewed by:

Nubia G. Lluberes, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, United States
Saul Kassin, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, United States  

Copyright: © 2019 Volbert, May, Hausam and Lau. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Renate Volbert, Psychologische Hochschule Berlin, Berlin, Germany, r.volbert@psychologische-hochschule.de