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False Confessions and Unethical Police Behavior Essay

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Updated: Jun 3rd, 2021


Ethical behavior in law enforcement agencies is a significant aspect of work since justice is largely based on security forces’ ability to perform their immediate duties impartially and honestly. Nevertheless, when assessing some cases of the violation of official powers among police officers, it is possible to meet the concept of false confessions. This type of misconduct is an illegal practice used by those interacting with suspects and witnesses.

The reasons for false confessions may be different, but the key factor is an attempt to assign responsibility for a certain offense to an innocent or partially guilty person. The consequences of this form of unethical behavior can be significant since the members of judicial commissions, as a rule, take into account suspects’ testimonies, and particular confessions may be regarded harshly enough.

In order to prevent or reduce the spread of such a trend, it is necessary to study its motives and develop an appropriate strategy aimed at changing some employees’ attitudes towards their behavior. False confessions are a dangerous and unethical phenomenon among police officers, and the participation of both senior security agencies and law enforcement officers themselves is mandatory.

The essence of False Confessions

The key meaning that false confessions bear is an attempt to force an innocent or partially guilty person to accept responsibility for a specific offense or a series of offenses. Most often, such unethical behavior is based on the relationship of real criminals with the members of investigative-search teams. As a result, under the influence of threats, tortures, or other means of pressure on the psyche, people take the blame, thereby allowing real criminals to remain above suspicion.

This practice is extremely dangerous for the justice system as a whole and cannot be tolerated. Law enforcement officers found colluding with criminals are to be held strictly accountable since concealing real offenders is criminally prosecuted. Today, when sufficiently extensive control over the performance of police officers is applied, in particular, video surveillance systems, classes with psychologists, and other techniques, it is easier to monitor the cases of such unethical behavior. However, despite such opportunities, the issue of false confessions arises periodically, and scholarly findings prove the relevance of this problem in the modern justice system.

Current Findings on the Topic of False Confessions

Researching the topic of false confessions as a form of police officers’ unethical behavior has different approaches and theoretical hypotheses aimed at determining reasons and consequences. For instance, according to Kassin, this type of performance offense can be divided into three main categories – “voluntary, coerced-compliant, and coerced-internalized” (27). Thus, the author emphasizes that pressure may not always come on the part of the members of the justice system, and the initiative to take the blame is often based on individuals’ personal desires (Kassin 27). Therefore, when investigating the cases of unethical behavior among police officers, it is essential to take into account the motives for which a particular offense was committed.

When judging by the findings on this topic, false confessions are closely related to psychology. As Paton et al. argue, manipulations that some law enforcement officers carry out with respect to suspects may have special techniques of exposure, for instance, pressure through blackmail, threats, and other unacceptable aspects (349). Using physical force today can hardly be called a common method since the traces of violence are a significant reason for conducting additional investigations regarding the legitimacy of the interrogation procedures conducted.

Nevertheless, according to Paton et al., special tactics employed by experienced police officers may be based on a variety of techniques, for example, creating and implementing false memories (350). Therefore, when analyzing this topic, it is crucial to take into account the diversity of the forms of such unethical behavior.

Searching for ways of preventing false confessions through police pressure is an urgent task. Wachi et al. conduct a study on the identification of the cases of law enforcement officers’ unethical behavior and those factors that may allow identifying such violations. According to the authors, a humane approach to interrogation can be more productive than blackmail and coercion in order to admit guilt (Wachi et al. 219). In addition, the concepts of full and partial confessions are proposed (Wachi et al. 217). Despite the difference in pressure on the accused, even minor coercion is the factor that is unacceptable in the practice of police officers.

Since the aforementioned notion of voluntary false confessions is an issue that is difficult enough to recognize and solve, it is essential to pay special attention to cases where the controversy of the testimony of the accused is obvious. Willard et al. focus on the principles of evaluating such a phenomenon and argue that based on the data analyzed, from 7% to 53% of accusations are due to self-reported confessions given falsely (767). As a result, additional difficulties arise when responsible boards which are obliged to monitor non-compliance with the code of ethics among police officers face the task of identifying violations. Thus, based on the assessment of current findings in this area, the problem of false confessions is quite relevant and acute.

Causes and Effects of False Confessions

The reasons for false confessions, as mentioned earlier, may lie either in the unethical behavior of police officers or the voluntary desire of individuals to take the blame. If law enforcement officers demonstrate the obvious violations of immediate powers and put pressure on suspects in order to obtain confessions, such cases are easier to identify. The accused may give appropriate evidence in court, and an additional service check will be conducted.

However, in case false confessions are given voluntarily, this creates significant challenges. In particular, as Kassin notes, both judges and juries may be confused by such a decision (28). As a result, the reputation of the justice system can suffer substantially if the violation is revealed.

Another potential effect of false confessions is an ethical problem when real criminals remain above suspicion. Quite often, during the interrogation process, it is difficult to determine whether the suspect tells the truth or not. Moreover, according to Wachi et al., the style of the interview does not have a significant effect on the type of confessions (220). Consequently, in case of either the biased assessment of certain testimony or targeted pressure from officers, an innocent person could incur a serious punishment for a misdemeanor that he or she did not commit. Such an outcome is unacceptable in the modern justice system where competent specialists work. Therefore, it is crucial to identify the potentially available ways of reducing this form of unethical behavior.

Attempts to Prevent and Reduce False Confessions

An opportunity to prevent or reduce the number of false confessions as the consequences of police officers’ unethical behavior is significant in modern legal practice. Neely and Dunstan suggest paying attention to a special interrogation program called the PEACE model that is designed to replace the Reid-technique model, an outdated system (14). According to the authors, specialists who resort to the conditions of such a methodology are better prepared to distinguish false testimony from truthful ones (Neely and Dunstan 14). Such a method can probably be more effective than changing the interrogation control system since officers interacting with suspects are not able to force interlocutors to a specific decision.

As an additional way of minimizing false confessions, additional work needs to be done among police officers. Career guidance activities aimed at training in interrogation techniques and describing the importance of conscientious execution of immediate duties may reduce the risk of pressure from law enforcement officers. As Paton et al. note, repeated questioning can help minimize unethical behavior and achieve more professional communication with suspects (344).

Thus, there are methods that contribute to partially solving the problem of false confessions, although, judging by the findings, there is no complete guarantee that these practices will definitely correct the current situation.


False confessions are the form of unethical behavior that may occur among law enforcement officials, and police officers promoting this violation disrupt the legal authority seriously. To minimize it, the involvement of both special control boards and innovative methods of interaction with suspects is necessary. The causes of false confessions may be different, and the effect of such a phenomenon can be negative due to the possibility of blaming an innocent person.

Works Cited

Kassin, Saul M. “The Social Psychology of False Confessions.” Social Issues and Policy Review, vol. 9, no. 1, 2015, pp. 25-51.

Neely, Phillip, and Amanda Dunstan. “Understanding the Importance of Ethical Dilemma with False Confessions.” International Journal of Contemporary Education, vol. 1, no. 2, 2018, pp. 12-18.

Paton, Wendy, et al. “The Combined Effects of Questioning Technique and Interviewer Manner on False Confessions.” Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, vol. 15, no. 3, 2018, pp. 335-349.

Wachi, Taeko, et al. “Japanese Suspect Interviews, Confessions, and Related Factors.” Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, vol. 31, no. 3, 2016, pp. 217-227.

Willard, Jennifer, et al. “Relationship Closeness and Self-Reported Willingness to Falsely Take the Blame.” Behavioral Sciences & the Law, vol. 34, no. 6, 2016, pp. 767-783.

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