How Trauma May Magnify Risk of Involuntary and False Confessions Among Adolescents




Adolscent, Juvenile, Trauma, Interrogation, Confession


Empirical research on police interrogation has identified both personal and situational factors that increase criminal suspects’ vulnerability to involuntary, unreliable, or false confessions. Although trauma exposure is a widely documented phenomenon known to affect adolescents’ perceptions, judgments, and behaviors in a wide array of contexts (especially stressful contexts), trauma history remains largely unexamined by interrogation researchers and virtually ignored by the courts when analyzing a confession. This article argues that trauma may operate as an additional personal risk factor for involuntary and false confessions among adolescents by generating both additive and interactive effects beyond youths’ general, developmentally-driven vulnerabilities in police interrogations. First, we briefly review adolescent trauma symptomatology, emphasizing the heterogeneity of adolescents’ responses to trauma. Next, using Leo and Drizin’s (2010) “Three Errors” framework of police-induced false confessions, we systematically apply clinical findings to each of the three police errors—misclassification, coercion, and contamination—to outline the psychological mechanisms through which adolescents with trauma histories may be at increased risk for making involuntary or unreliable statements to police. Finally, we offer considerations for interrogation research, clinical forensic practice, police practices, and courtroom procedures that could deepen our understanding of trauma’s role in the interrogation room, improve the integrity of investigative and adjudicatory processes, and ultimately promote justice for adolescent suspects with trauma exposure.




How to Cite

Cleary, H., Guarnera, L., Aaron, J., & Crane, M. (2021). How Trauma May Magnify Risk of Involuntary and False Confessions Among Adolescents. The Wrongful Conviction Law Review, 2(3), 173–204.