Everyone understands just how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. You have also likely had those nights when you haven’t gotten enough sleep and simply felt restless the next day. Or, you might be one of those lucky people who stays up too late and ends up thinking that everything is funny. Of course, when you fail to get enough sleep, this is actually the least of your concerns. Without proper rest, your brain functioning can be greatly diminished and after too long you can have serious issues, including vivid hallucinations. So, it really shouldn’t come as much of a shock that sleep deprivation has been linked to false confessions.
False confessions may not sound like they are much of a problem, but according to the Innocence Project they actually account for up to 1/4 of all wrongful convictions within the US. In a somewhat recent example put forth by the Innocence Project involving a 1996 murder case, Damon Thibodeaux was released last month after DNA evidence proved that he had nothing to do with the murder. Of course, since he was severely sleep deprived during questioning and had a recorded confession on file, his imprisonment for 15 years was pretty much guaranteed.
This isn’t the first time someone was proven innocent after falsely confessing due to sleep deprivation either. In fact, the UK has found there were many cases of false imprisonment due to this type of interrogation, which is why it is now illegal for police to interview a suspect without ensuring he or she has gotten at least eight hours of sleep within the last 24.
While it might seem too difficult to imagine why someone would cave with such a relatively small amount of sleep deprivation, it really shouldn’t be difficult if you put yourself in their shoes. After all, they really need sleep and that desire to get it can push them to admit to even the most heinous of crimes. Besides, society teaches them that justice will prevail, so they trust the system will get all the evidence and then let them off. When that doesn’t happen, it becomes really hard to go back on their own confession.
To help demonstrate the effects of sleep deprivation and how it can lead to false confessions, Elizabeth Loftus and others at the University of California, Irvine worked to design an appropriate study. Using 88 participants, they had the test group perform various tasks on the computer, warning them never to hit the “escape” key for risk of losing all the data. A week later, they made sure part of the group has a full eight hours of sleep and the other part was forced to stay up all night. Individually, they asked the members to sign a statement admitting their guilt. While only 18 percent of those who got sleep admitted it falsely, 50 percent of of those sleep deprived made the admission.
Yes, it could be argued the stakes were different, but really it is telling of how much sleep deprivation can affect the judgement.
Though it might sound far-fetched, depriving a suspect of sleep is really not that different from torture. Both end up having a negative mental impact and lead victims into saying whatever they believe will get them relief. In traditional torture, they say something to stop the pain. With sleep deprivation though, they just want to get some peaceful sleep. Either way, if you want the truth, this is not the way to get it.