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An exploratory examination of intellectual disability and mental illness associated with alleged false confessions

Abstract The National Registry of Exonerations tracks cases of individuals who have been wrongly convicted and exonerated since 1989. Their most recent report revealed that 12% of those exonerated gave false confessions. The current study used data from the National Registry of Exonerations and focused on a sample of 2,378 individuals convicted of felonies with a focus on sexual offenses, as such crimes tend to be viewed as particularly heinous with increased consequences for those convicted. After examining various legal and extralegal factors, the results showed that those accused of sexual offenses, particularly sexual murders, had a greater likelihood of giving a false confession than those accused of non‐sexual offenses. The likelihood of falsely confessing was higher among juveniles, those with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, and cases with multiple suspects. Females had a greater odds of falsely confessing to murder than males. Implications and recommendations are discussed.

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