False confessions in Australian Wrongful Convictions

Lisanne Adam1
1RMIT University – Graduate School Of Business And Law, Melbourne, Australia

Confession evidence is considered the strongest evidence in criminal proceedings, hence, a false confession could be problematic. The exonerations of innocent individuals who falsely confessed have led to global awareness of this issue in criminal justice systems.  Although most is known about US exonerations, it would be unrealistic to believe wrongful convictions do not happen outside the US. Indeed, more and more evidence surfaces around the world that false confessions are made in every country. In Australia, the general public has been confronted with wrongful conviction cases in which a false confession was made. The media coverage of exonerated individuals such as John Button, Darryl Beamish and more recently Gene Gibson have brought the issue to the attention of the general public.  The underlying reason for their false confessions differ, Button, for instance, was distraught and exhausted and confessed to escape his interrogation. Gibson’s English proficiency was limited and came to believe that he would get ‘big time’ jail if he did not confess. This presentation will focus on the underlying reasons why an individual confesses to a crime he or she did not commit. The presenter will differentiate the types of false confessions identified by Kassin and Wrightsman (e.g.  voluntary false confessions, coerced internalised and coerced compliant) and explain these different types of false confessions in Australian wrongful conviction cases. The presenter will also emphasise the importance of defence lawyers’ knowledge on this issue and the importance of their ability to identify false confessions in police interviews with their clients.

Lisanne Adam (LL.M) is a PhD candidate at the GSBL of RMIT University. She was previously affiliated with the Not Guilty: The Sydney Exoneration Project of the University of Sydney. During her work for this project she identified the key issues with regards to false confessions and wrongful convictions. In her PhD research she analyses the prevalence of- and underlying reasons for false confessions which contribute to Australian wrongful convictions.


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