Confessing to a Crime You Didn't Commit:
A Case Study Analysis in False Confessions
When asked whether they could envision a circumstance under which they might confess to a crime they didn't commit, most people respond with a confident and resounding "no." The prospect is difficult to fathom, which is why juries often consider confessions to be among the paramount pieces of inculpatory evidence leading to guilty verdicts. However, the Innocence Project finds that more than 1 out of 4 wrongfully convicted persons ultimately exonerated by DNA evidence falsely confessed to the crime for which they were charged. We will explore this phenomena using the 1992 Waukegan murder of Holly Staker and the false confession of Juan Rivera. Juan's false confession led to three separate juries rendering a guilty verdict for him, resulting in Juan spending 19 years in the Department of Corrections before finally being exonerated.
Stephanie Caparelli is a Lecturer in Politics at Lake Forest College. She earned her BA in Politics and Communication summa cum laude from Lake Forest College, and then graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law, where she interned at the Lake County Juvenile Justice Division of the Lake County Public Defender as well as the Felony Trials Division of the Cook County Public Defender. She practiced law as a trial lawyer in the Lake County Public Defender's Office before joining the faculty at Lake Forest College, where she teaches courses on trial law, criminal procedure, Chicago criminal cases, and argument and rhetoric in law.