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How false memories can lead to a wrongful conviction

Most people would consider criminal charges to be an incredibly troubling thing to face because they know that their freedom could be at stake if they are convicted of committing a crime. Most people also know that wrongful convictions do happen across the nation, oftentimes leaving a person labeled as a criminal even though they have done nothing wrong.

In many cases, wrongful convictions can occur because of confessions that are later proven false by other evidence. But this might lead you to ask: why would someone confess to committing a crime they didn't do? If you're like some of our Missouri readers, you may be thinking you would never allow yourself to be convinced into confessing to a crime you had nothing to do with. But would you be correct in making this assertion? Some psychologists say no.

In a study conducted in the United Kingdom at the University of Bedfordshire, researchers were able to show how easily our memories can trick us into giving a false confession. They did this by suggesting a false memory to participants who were later asked repeatedly to describe the event which, in some cases, included committing a crime. Coupled with "poor memory-retrieval techniques," a majority of participants were not only able to recall the false memory but were also able to give details about the crime that never happened.

This particular research is quite poignant because it shows how easy it is for false memories to solidify themselves into reality. With enough coaxing, a person could easily admit to committing a crime in which they did not participate, which might be particularly discomforting for those in Missouri who think this could never happen to them.

As you may already know, appealing a conviction can be challenging, especially when a confession is involved. Even if a conviction is overturned, the challenges don't stop there. A person may want their criminal record expunged, which is no easy task if you do not have the right legal counsel at your side. This is something we'd like all our readers to keep in mind, especially now that we know how easily a false memory can lead to a wrongful conviction.

Source: The Associated for Psychological Science, "People Can Be Convinced They Committed a Crime That Never Happened," Julia Shaw, Jan. 15, 2015

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