Top Talks (#7): Why Teens Confess to Crimes They Didn’t Commit – Lindsay Taylor

Hello there!

Welcome to week seven of ‘Top Talks’ – a segment where I do a show-and-tell of my favourite speeches, talks or lectures.

I am a strong believer in continuous improvement – which to me, means finding and listening to people who have an array of different values, beliefs and ideas, and sharing them with others!

I apologize that this is a week late – I’ll be uploading two this week to catch up.

So…

WHO IS LINDSAY MALLOY?

Dr. Lindsay Malloy is an Associate Professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa (Canada).

Lindsay has a PhD in Psychology and Social Behaviour at the University of California, and has devoted her career to investigating the Youth Justice System and Vulnerable Youth.

Lindsay is also a columnist for ‘Behavioural Science’, where she has written about false confessions given by teenagers, with a co-author (Andrea Arndorfer).

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fiu/30913572962

Why Teens Confess to Crimes They Didn’t Commit – Lindsay Taylor

What I got out of this ‘Top Talk’.

This TED Talk was incredibly interesting to me. I have always had a keen interest in false confessions (yes, I watched ‘The Confession Tapes‘ and ‘Making a Murderer‘) as well as also having a personal interest in wrongful convictions, which stemmed from my time in Law School (more on that in a later article – but see Dr. Bob Moles’ page, ‘Networked Knowledge‘, if you are interested in the meantime).

Innocent people can often end up spending the rest of their lives in prison, or face death row in some countries, all because of evidence (such as a false confession) that isn’t used or interpreted correctly. False confessions are a huge issue, as well as testimony from ‘experts in the field’ who are biased to the state and also unreliable witness testimony.

Question Mark Illustration

WHY WOULD SOMEONE CONFESS TO SOMETHING THEY DIDN’T DO?

It sounds almost ridiculous to think of ourselves admitting to a crime we didn’t commit. But as Dr. Lindsay points out, in over 25% of overturned wrongful convictions, false confessions occurred.

False confessions are even more prevalent among juveniles/young people. In one study, Dr. Lindsay says that only 8% of adults confessed to something they hadn’t done, but 42% of juveniles had admitted to it. That’s a staggering number.

Juveniles are far more susceptible to influence, such as accusation or interrogation. Adult and juvenile brains are not alike, with juveniles still developing areas of the brain associated with self-control, decision making and sensitivity to reward vs risk – among a plethora of other things. This can influence the way they react to police interrogation – which is another problem area when it comes to teens falsely confessing.

‘THEY GOT INTO MY HEAD’

The above statement is what Brendan Dassey, from ‘Making a Murderer’ said after finally speaking with his Mother after a four hour interrogation (who knows what the outcome would have been if he had spoken to her first).

Brendan Dassey was 16 years old, accused of being present in a murder, and with an IQ of 70, putting him in the range of intellectual disability.

Hotrod Die-cast Model on Board

In many countries, police are allowed to interrogate juveniles in exactly the same way as adults. However, juveniles often don’t know their rights and police often fail to mention certain things, like the fact they are allowed an attorney or adult in the room while being questioned.

Interrogation in and of itself, is incredibly grueling, In some cases, interrogations can last hours – some lasting 12 hours or more. For anyone (not just juveniles), this can sometimes be enough to exhaust and confuse someone to the point where they agree or admit to something just so the ordeal is ‘over’. Dr. Lindsay puts it this way:

‘… we’ve decided that juveniles cannot be trusted with things like voting, buying cigarettes, attending an R-rated movie or driving, but they can make the judgment call to waive their Miranda Rights… in some states… without consulting any adult first.’

Interrogation strategies that work on adults can often be dangerous when used on developing, impressionable and socially susceptible juveniles. Being lied to, yelled at or told things will be ‘okay’ of they confess, are all part of standard interrogation.

As a parent and as a researcher, I think we can do better. I think we can take steps to prevent another Brendan Dassey, while still getting the crucial information that we need from children and teens to solve crimes.

Dr. Lindsay Malloy
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