Voluntariness of Confessions

Forensic psychologists working in criminal proceedings must be acquainted with the law and behavioral science of confessions. Voluntariness of confessions is a deep mainstay of confession law, reflected in the Miranda decision. Miranda requires that a confession be voluntary, knowing, and intelligent, though discrimination between the latter two prongs is murky. On the issue of voluntariness, in general, decades of case law approves a wide range of government interrogation tactics, including the ability of the government to lie and fabricate evidence in the effort to obtain a confession. The fine article by Paul Marcus in the Valparaiso Law Review outlines the issues and reviews the law. It is good reading. The voluntariness of confessions must be considered alongside but separately from “false confessions.” The easily accessible work of Saul Kassin is required reading and knowledge for competent forensic psychology of confessions. In performing a psychological evaluation of defendants, it is often the case that the voluntariness of the confession is taken for granted.

The Marcus review is a superb orientation to the issues delineating the contours and limits of voluntariness in confession law and policy.

The cited Kassin article is a great overview with a concise bibliography.

PS. PAR, Inc. has recently released a new tool for the assessment of Miranda waivers. the SAMA. This was reviewed in a previous post.


Paul Marcus, It’s Not Just About Miranda: Determining the Voluntariness of Confessions in Criminal Prosecutions, 40 Val. U. L. Rev. 601 (2006). Available at: http://scholar.valpo.edu/vulr/vol40/iss3/4.

Saul M. Kassin (2008), “False Confessions: Causes, Consequences, and Implications for Reform”, Current Directions in Psychological Science 17, 4, 249-253.


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