Wrongful Convictions and Mental Illness

A Qualitative Case Study of James Blackmon


  • Lauren Amos Harvard Law School




Mental illness, Wrongful Convictions, Reid Technique, Crisis Intervention Teams, False Confessions, CIT Training


People with a mental illness (PWMI) are among the most vulnerable populations in the country, yet are far more likely to be incarcerated than people without a mental illness. PWMI are more likely to be wrongfully convicted for several reasons.At the onset of an investigation, PWMI are more likely to become suspects. Symptoms of mental illness breed fear and misunderstanding, arousing suspicion of a PWMI in the first place. Once approached by police, PWMI are more likely to escalate the initial encounter, leading to arrest and further interrogation. Through the lens of the Reid Technique, police misinterpret symptoms of mental illness as signs of guilt. Police continue using the Reid Technique to extract a confession. Mid- interrogation, PWMI are less likely to invoke Miranda rights. Without counsel, PWMI are more susceptible to minimization and maximation techniques, leading to higher rates of false confessions and ultimately, false convictions. These issues are significantly exacerbated for PWMI of color, who experience additional racial bias. From the beginning of an investigation to the end, the justice system seems perversely calculated to target innocent PWMI, rather than protect them. The case of James Blackmon demonstrates how an innocent PWMI can be railroaded into a false confession and wrongful conviction. This paper details Blackmon’s case, analyzes how each step of an investigation endangers PWMI, and examines possible solutions to protect innocent PWMI.  




How to Cite

Amos, L. (2021). Wrongful Convictions and Mental Illness: A Qualitative Case Study of James Blackmon. The Wrongful Conviction Law Review, 2(1), 22–54. https://doi.org/10.29173/wclawr3