Distinguishing Between Admissions and Confessions

Written By: Reid
Dec 01, 1998
An admission represents a statement that tends toward proving guilt. On the other hand, a confession is a fully corroborated statement during which the suspect accepts personal responsibility for committing a crime. This distinction is important for legal and procedural reasons. For example, a theft suspect who agrees to reimburse the victim for the $1000 stolen has offered an admission, not a confession. While a willingness to pay back an amount of money stolen is very typical of the guilty suspect, we have had at least one occurrence of a verified innocent person who agreed to do this also. The principle to keep in mind is that an admission does not accept personal responsibility for committing the crime.

In a second example, a suspect who was questioned concerned the death of his infant child acknowledged picking the child up in a manner that was somewhat consistent with the probable cause of death. However, the father maintained that when he put the child back down the child was alive and not in distress. Based primarily on this admission, the father was charged with homicide. During the trial, when the prosecutor was unable to present any further evidence of the father's guilt, a motion was granted to dismiss the charge.

Many interrogations result in admissions, rather than a confession. A homicide suspect who states, "I'm sorry about what I did" has offered an admission; the child molester who states, "If I did touch her bare vagina, it would have been for just a few seconds" has similarly offered merely an admission. So too has the suspect who, after hours of interrogation, acknowledges for the first time that he was present during a drive-by shooting. Under these circumstances the investigator needs to pursue the issue further during the interrogation in an attempt to see if the suspect will accept personal responsibility for committing the crime.

There are suspects, of course, who refuse to go beyond the admission stage -- regardless of the investigator's efforts, the suspect simply will not accept personal responsibility for committing the crime. Under that circumstance the investigator must consider the possibility that the suspect may be innocent of the crime and pursue other investigative techniques to resolve the suspect's status. In the case of the earlier mentioned suspect who agreed to pay back stolen money, but did not admit stealing it, we decided to interview the only other suspect on the case. The second suspect displayed deceptive behavior symptoms and was interrogated. The subsequent interrogation resulted in a full acknowledgment of the theft including corroborative details of how the money was spent.

Many suspects who make admissions during an interview or interrogation (admitting that proper procedures were not followed, lying about an alibi, or acknowledging the possibility that they may have committed the crime) are, in fact, guilty of the crime under investigation. However, to use such an admission as grounds for dismissal or as the linchpin of a prosecution may result in a wrongful discharge suit or an unsuccessful prosecution.

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