Facts and Figures

Police-induced false confessions are among the leading causes of wrongful convictions.

Since the late 1980s, six studies alone have documented approximately 250 interrogation-induced false confessions.

In Bedau and Radelet's 1987 study, false confessions were the third leading cause of wrongful conviction; In Warden's 2003 study they were the single leading cause.

Police-induced false confessions appear to occur primarily in the more serious cases, especially homicides and other high-profile felonies.

More than 80 percent of the 125 false confessions documented by Professors Steve Drizin and Richard Leo occurred in homicide cases.

False confessions may be the single leading cause of wrongful convictions in homicide cases.

More than two-thirds of the DNA-cleared homicide cases documented by the Innocence Project were caused by false confessions.

There have been 258 post-conviction DNA exonerations in the United States.

Exonerations have been won in 34 states; since 2000, there have been 186 exonerations.

In about 25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.

17 of the 258 people exonerated through DNA served time on death row.

The average length of time served by exonerees is 13 years.

The average age of exonerees at the time of their wrongful convictions is 27.

93% of false confessors are men.

The most common bases for exoneration were the real perpetrator was identifed (74%) or that new scientiific evidence was discovered (46%).

63% of false confessors were under the age of 25, and 32% were under 18; yet of all persons arrested for murder and rape, only 8 and 16%, respectively, are juveniles.

22% were mentally retarded and 10% had a diagnosed mental illness.

Multiple false confessions to the same crime were obtained in 30% of the cases, wherein one false confession was used to prompt others.

2009 brought 22 new cases of DNA exonerations of people wrongly convicted. The overall total is 258, and the Innocence Project reports that roughly 25% had given false confessions.

Among a total of 340 exonerations of all kinds documented between 1989 and 2003, 15 percent involved false confessions.

Of the 27 exonerations in New York State, 13 have been based upon false confession. Two-thirds of murder convictions overturned by DNA evidence turned out to have been based on false confessions.

Over 800 jurisdictions nationwide, including the states of Alaska, Minnesota and Illinois, regularly record police interrogations.

According to a report by the Northwestern University School of Law, after speaking with hundreds of police jurisdictions, the researchers found that "virtually every officer with whom we spoke, having given custodial recordings a try, was enthusiastically in favor of the practice."

Sixty-eight percent indicated that they believed a suspect would confess falsely "not very often" (40 percent) or "almost never" (28 percent). This quantifies the perception of trial attorneys who report that the vast majority of potential jurors insist that it is not possible for someone to confess to a crime he did not commit.

There have been 43 wrongful confessions in New York State: New York outpaces almost every other state in the number of wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing.

In the last seven years, there has been a particularly high number of DNA exonerations in New York State. Since 2000, 17 wrongfully convicted people in New York have been exonerated with DNA evidence; seven of the 17 were wrongfully convicted of murder.

In 10 of New York's 26 DNA exonerations, the actual perpetrator was later identified.

In nine of those 10 cases, the actual perpetrators of crimes for which innocent people were wrongfully convicted went on to commit additional crimes while an innocent person was in prison. According to law enforcement reports, five murders, seven rapes, two serious assaults and one robbery at gunpoint were committed by the actual perpetrators of crimes for which innocent people were committed - and each of those crimes was committed after the wrongful arrest or conviction, so they could have been prevented if wrongful convictions had not happened.

Eyewitness misidentification played a role in 13 of the 23 wrongful convictions in New York that were overturned with DNA testing.

In 11 of the 26 cases in New York, innocent people falsely confessed or admitted to crimes that DNA later proved they did not commit.

Limited or unreliable forensic science played a role in 10 of the 23 wrongful convictions in New York that were overturned through DNA evidence.


The Innocence Project

Center on Wrongful Convictions

The Problem of False Confession in America

The Truth About False Confessions

The Drum Major Institute