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30 Queen's L.J. 601 (2004-2005)
False Confessions and Admissions in Canadian Law

handle is hein.journals/queen30 and id is 607 raw text is: False Confessions and Admissions in
Canadian Law
Christopher Sherrin*
The author argues that false confessions are a serious and underestimated problem for which
the Canadian criminal justice system provides inadequate safeguards. Despite notorious cases
of false confession in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada, sceptics argue that such cases are rare.
Evidence suggests, however, that false confessions and admissions occur with some regularity. If
this is correct, it represents a problem, because the law has traditionally admitted confessions
into evidence under the assumption that, if they are voluntary, they are a reliable indication of
To date, legal literature has focused mainly on how the actions of the police can induce false
confessions. The author points to additional and possibly more helpful psychological research
which demonstrates that certain individuals, and individuals in certain situations, may be
especially vulnerable to making false statements. The young, the intellectually disabled, the
sleep deprived and those in withdrawal are among the people at risk, yet Canadian law fails to
respond to their vulnerability. The author critically examines the Canadian confessions rule in
light of the Supreme Court of Canada's assertion that it adequately protects against false
The author calls for more legal and psychological research into false admissions and
confessions to more clearly identify police tactics that trigger them, as well as to better identify
the personality types prone to this behaviour. He also argues that judges should be made aware
of the social science evidence that casts doubt on the value of some confessions, so that they can
better use their discretion to exclude unreliable statements.
I.   Does Anyone Really Ever Falsely Confess?
II.  The Debate over the Frequency of False Confessions and Admissions
III. Types of False Confessions
IV. Causes of False Confessions and Admissions
A. Focusing on the Interrogation
B. Focusing on the Interrogated
V.   Linking Suggestibility to False Confessions and Admissions
VI. Interrogative Suggestibility and Canadian Law
'Ph.D. Candidate, Adjunct Faculty Member and Acting Director of the Innocence
Project, Osgoode Hall Law School, Toronto. My thanks go out to Dianne Martin and
Kent Roach for their helpful comments on an earlier draft.

C. Sherrin

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