False confessions are a contributing factor in almost 30% of DNA exonerations in the United States. Similar problems have been documented all over the world. We present a novel framework to highlight the processes through which innocent people, once misidentified as suspects, experience cumulative disadvantages that culminate in pernicious consequences. The cumulative-disadvantage framework details how the innocent suspect’s naivete and the interrogator’s presumption of guilt trigger a process that can lead to false confession, the aftereffects of which spread to corrupt evidence gathering, bias forensic analysis, and virtually ensure wrongful convictions at trial or through pressured false guilty pleas. The framework integrates nascent research underscoring the enduring effects of the accumulated disadvantages postconviction and even after exoneration. We synthesize findings from psychological science, corroborating naturalistic evidence, and relevant legal precedents to explain how an innocent suspect’s disadvantages can accumulate through the actions of law enforcement, forensic examiners, prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, juries, and appeals courts. We conclude with prescribed research directions that can lead to empirically driven reforms to address the gestalt of the multistage process.
- decision making
- social influence