Playing on guilt can lead to criminals confessing

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

TORONTO - Even the most horrible criminals feel guilt, and playing on that sentiment might be a good way to extract a confession.

Michel St-Yves, forensic psychologist and lead author Nadine Deslauriers-Varin, both from the University of Montreal’s School of Criminology, worked with 221 prisoners, analysing the conditions under which they did or didn’t confess.

The findings highlighted the predominant role of police evidence over and above other factors the researchers considered, reports the journal Justice Quarterly.

When the evidence is strong, the confession rate increases independently of socio-demographic or criminological factors, according to a Montreal statement.

However, when police evidence is weak, researchers found that a confession is more likely if there are feelings of guilt about the crime, if the suspect is single at the time of the interrogation or has prior convictions.

“Confessions mostly rely on how the interrogation is conducted and it’s nothing short of an art form,” St-Yves said.

He believes that criminals feel the urge to confess for various reasons — to unburden themselves, to blame a third party, to make their crime more acceptable in the eyes of others or their own eyes, or in the hope of obtaining a lighter sentence.

Among the prisoners who volunteered for the study, 45 percent had confessed to their crime, which is slightly lower than the 50 percent confession rate concluded by other studies.

The confession rate of first-time offenders was 80 percent and 51 percent for repeat offenders.

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