False Confessions and Children

Researchers in the area of wrongful convictions have found that children are particularly susceptible to giving false confessions.[1] Once in custody, children’s psychological development, intellectual difficulties, and mental health issues make them vulnerable to coercive police interrogation tactics, which often leads children to falsely confess to crimes they did not commit.[2]

During interrogations, police often use the same coercive interrogation strategies on children that they use on adults.[3] This results in children not only being more likely to waive their Miranda rights than adults, but also being more likely to falsely confess to crimes than adults.[4] The most commonly used interrogation technique in the United States, the Reid technique, inherently coerces and deceives suspects.[5] This inherent nature of the Reid technique combined with children’s vulnerabilities and susceptibilities “has led to an unacceptably high rate of false confessions among juvenile suspects.”[6] According to the National Registry of Exonerations, thirty-four percent of exonerated children under the age of eighteen falsely confessed to a crime compared to ten percent of adults.[7] Other studies of exonerees have found that forty-four percent of children falsely confessed to a crime “compared to 13 percent of adults.”[8] As these studies show, children have a much higher likelihood to falsely confess to crimes when confronted with the same interrogation tactics used against adults.

Children with certain vulnerabilities, such as younger children, children with mental illness, or children with intellectual disabilities, also have higher rates of falsely confessing compared to other children.  For example, a higher percentage of children under the age of fourteen falsely confessed to a crime compared to sixteen- or seventeen-year-old children.[9] Research by the National Registry of Exonerations also showed a difference in false confessions between children with mental illness or intellectual disability and children without either disability. The vast majority (79 percent) of children under the age of eighteen who had a mental illness or intellectual disability falsely confessed.[10] While only about a quarter (27 percent) of children without a mental illness or intellectual disability falsely confessed to a crime.[11] These vulnerabilities result in many children waiving their Miranda rights without truly understanding “what they are giving up” and the potential consequences for waiving their rights, such as false confessions.[12]


[1] Ariel Spierer, The Right to Remain a Child: The Impermissibility of the Reid Technique in Juvenile Interrogations, 92 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 1719, 1723 (2017).

[2] Jason Mandelbaum & Angela Crossman, No illusions: Developmental considerations in adolescent false confessions, Am. Psych. Ass’n (Dec. 2014), https://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/newsletter/2014/12/adolescent-false-confessions.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Spierer, supra note 1 at 1719.

[6] Id.

[7] Age and Mental Status of Exonerated Defendants Who Confessed, Nat’l Registry of Exonerations (Apr. 2022) https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Age%20and%20Mental%20Status%20FINAL%20CHART.pdf.

[8] Mandelbaum & Crossman, supra note 2.

[9] According to the National Registry of Exonerations, 78 percent of exonerated children under the age of fourteen falsely confessed to the crime. This compares to 54 percent of exonerated fourteen- and fifteen-year-old children and 27 percent of exonerated 16- and 17-year-old children. Age and Mental Status of Exonerated Defendants Who Confessed, National Registry of Exonerations (Feb. 2019) https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Age%20and%20Mental%20Status%20FINAL%20CHART.pdf.

[10] Age and Mental Status of Exonerated Defendants Who Confessed, Nat’l Registry of Exonerations (Apr. 2022) https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Age%20and%20Mental%20Status%20FINAL%20CHART.pdf.

[11] Id.

[12] M. Dyan McGuire, Miranda is not Enough: What Every Parent in the United States Should Know About Protecting Their Child, 2J. of L. and Crim. Just. 299, 303 (2014)

Children’s Vulnerability During Police Interrogations: The Story of Michael Crowe

The story of Michael Crowe, a 14-year-old child, exemplifies why children need protections during police interrogations. Michael’s traumatic involvement with the criminal justice system began on the night of January 20, 1998 when someone snuck into Stephanie Crowe’s bedroom and stabbed her to death.[1] Police questioned the entire Crowe family the following day, including Michael, Stephanie’s brother.[2] The police read Michael his Miranda rights before questioning him about the murder.[3] However, Michael waived his Miranda rights and spoke with the detectives without an attorney or parent present.[4]

Detectives ignored the fact that on the night of Stephanie’s murder neighbors called the police several times.[5] Neighbors reported that a man was bothering residents and broke into a home in the Crowe’s neighborhood looking for a girl.[6] Detectives had the wrong suspect, but they nonetheless continued to focus their attention on Michael, interrogating him four times.[7]

In the first interview on January 21, 1998, Michael told police that he awoke with a headache around 4:30 a.m. on the morning after Stephanie was murdered, took Tylenol, and went back to his room.[8] Michael retold the same story when police interviewed him for the second time on January 22nd.[9] During the second interrogation, Michael also spoke about how seeing his sister “soaked in blood” the next morning made him cry.[10] He described her as “the best person” and “kind.” Michael expressed anger towards the killer.[11]

            Later that day, police interviewed Michael for a third time for three hours even though he expressed “that he felt sick” at the beginning.[12] Michael once again repeated what he told police during his first and second interviews and said:

I feel like I just … I spent all day away from my family. I couldn’t see them… I feel like I’m being treated like I killed my sister, and I didn’t. It feels horrible, like I’m being blamed for it … Everything I have is gone. Everything. You won’t even let me see my parents. It’s horrible.[13]

Detectives ignored Michael’s pleas and continued to interrogate him by giving a computer stress voice analyzer test.[14] Detectives told Michael that the test proved he was deceiving them and questioned whether there was something he was “blocking out” in his “subconscious mind.”[15] Michael continued to deny that he murdered his sister even as detectives pressured him about whether he needed to confess something.[16] Detectives began to tell Michael that police “found blood in his room, lifted fingerprints off the blood stains, and that the police” knew he killed Stephanie.[17] As Michael repeatedly denied killing his sister, detectives told him that maybe he simply did not remember killing his sister.[18] An emotional and confused Michael asked the detective “if he was sure” that he had killed his sister. To which the detective responded, “‘I’m sure about the evidence. Absolutely.’”[19]

            Finally, detectives interviewed Michael for a fourth time for over six hours on January 23, 1998.[20] Detectives used various interrogation tactics to make Michael confess.[21] Detectives again told Michael that the police had evidence which proved he murdered Stephanie.[22] The detectives also played a “game” with Michael that forced Michael to explain crime scene evidence, but with a rule that Michael could not say “‘I don’t know.’”[23] Detectives continued to tell Michael that he killed Stephanie and he did not remember and “introduced the idea that there were ‘two Michaels,’ a ‘good Michael’ and a ‘bad Michael.’”[24] Finally, detectives told Michael “if he confessed he would get help rather than go to jail.”[25] The detectives continued to pressure Michael into confessing, which resulted in the following exchange:

  1. If I tell you a story, the evidence is going to be a complete lie.

Q. Well, then, tell us the story.

A. Well, I’ll lie. I’ll have to make it up.

Q. Tell us the story, Michael.

A. You want me to tell you a little story?

Q. Tell us the story. What happened that night?

A. Okay. I’m going to warn you right now. It is a complete lie.

Q. Tell us the story.

A. Okay. This is true. I am extremely jealous of my sister.

Q. Okay.

A. She’s always had a lot of friends and good friends and stuff like that. She was friends with people my age, all the popular girls and stuff like that. That’s true. Okay…Okay. Here is the part where I’ll start lying. That night I thought about her. I couldn’t take it anymore. Okay. So I got a knife, went into her room and I stabbed her….

Q. How many times did you stab her?

A. It’s going to be a lie. Three times…

Q. Tell me what the truth is.

A. The only reason I’m trying to lie here is because you presented me with two paths. I’d rather die than go to jail.[26]

The detectives finally had what they saw as a confession and proceeded with criminal charges against Michael.[27] Michael’s story stands as a testament to why the legal community and society as a whole must fight to ensure that the legal injustice, psychological manipulation, and emotional trauma Michael endured during police interrogations does not happen to any other child.


[1] Crowe v. Cty. of San Diego, 608 F.3d 406, 417 (9th Cir. 2010).

[2] Id. at 418.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 417.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 418-419.

[8] Id. at 418.

[9] Id. at 418-419.

[10] Id. at 419.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id. at 420.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id. at 420-421.

[24] Id. at 421.

[25] Id. at 422.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

Maternal and Infant Mortality: How we are Failing Black Women and Children

The United States continues to have the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality among developed countries.[1] However, maternal and infant mortality rates do not impact all racial and ethnic groups equally.[2] In fact, maternal and infant mortality rates for Black women and children are significantly higher compared to other racial or ethnic groups.[3]

While global rates of maternal mortality have steadily decreased since the 1990s, maternal mortality in the United States has increased, impacting all mothers but especially Black mothers.[4] For example, in New York “between 2006 and 2010 black women were 12 times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes,” an increase “from seven times more likely between 2001 and 2005.”[5]

In 2020, 861 women in the United States died due to maternal causes, an increase from 754 women in 2019 and 658 women in 2018.[6] This means that 23.8 women died per 100,000 live births in 2020.[7] When broken down by race, 55.3 Black women died per 100,000 live births compared to 18.2 Hispanic women and 19.1 White women per 100,000 live births during the same year.[8]

Although infant mortality rates have decreased since the 1800s, “the disparity between Black and White infant deaths today is actually greater than it was under antebellum slavery.”[9] In 1850, enslaved Black infants were estimated to die “at a rate 1.6 times higher than that of White infants.”[10] Yet, Black infant mortality rates in 2017 were more than 2.3 times higher than White infant mortality rates.[11]

In 2017, the overall infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.79 deaths per 1,000 live births.[12] However, infant mortality rates for Black children was 10.97 deaths per 1,000 live births, more than double the infant mortality rates for Hispanic (5.1 deaths per 1,000 live births) and White (4.67 deaths per 1,000 live births) infants.[13] Of the Black infants who died in 2017, approximately two-thirds died within the first 28 days of their life (neonatal deaths) and one-third died between 28 and 364 days after birth (post neonatal).[14]

Public health officials, medical experts, and social scientists have long pointed to social determinants of health as the cause for racial disparity in maternal and infant mortality rates. However, social determinants by themselves do not fully explain why Black women and children die at such higher rates than their White counterparts in the United States.[15] Instead, unconscious biases embedded in medical institutions amplify the problems involving social determinants of health, impacting the quality of medical care Black women and children receive.[16]

Research has shown that racism is one of the root causes of unequal health outcomes for people of color, “not simply the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, play, and age.”[17] In fact, researchers who study the infant mortality difference between Black and White babies have discovered “that controlling for maternal background factors” does not completely explain the racial disparity in infant mortality.[18] Additionally, racial disparities in maternal deaths for Black women persist “regardless of seemingly protective factors,” such as education.[19] Black, college educated women “are more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than pregnant white, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific islander women without high school diplomas.”[20] Unfortunately, “Black women, regardless of social or economic status,” have higher rates of maternal mortality.[21]

Every day in the United States Black women and children die because medical providers and institutions fail to listen to Black mothers and do not intervene to save Black women and children’s lives.[22] Cori Bush, a United States Congresswoman, explained how she and her two children almost became maternal and infant mortality statistics.[23] Bush alerted doctors to medical issues she was experiencing during her first pregnancy, but doctors ignored her, instead telling her to go home.[24] A week later, Bush went into preterm labor and delivered her son at 23 weeks gestation.[25] When Bush began going into preterm labor during her second pregnancy, a doctor told her “the baby was going to abort.”[26] Bush pleaded with the doctor to save her baby.[27] The doctor told her “‘Just go home. Let it abort. You can get pregnant again because that’s what you people do,’” clearly referring to Bush’s identity as a Black woman.[28] Fortunately, Bush and her children survived, but their stories stand as a testament to how racism continues to kill Black people.[29] Bush explained in her own words: “Every day, Black women are subjected to harsh and racist treatment during pregnancy and childbirth. Every day, Black women die because the system denies our humanity.”[30] Black women and children deserve better; Black women and children deserve to live.


[1] Jamila Taylor, Katie Hamm, Cristina Novoa & Shilpa Phadke, Eliminating Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Mortality: A Comprehensive Policy Blueprint1 (Ctr. for Am. Progress ed., 2019).; Jamila K. Taylor, Structural Racism and Maternal Health Among Black Women, 48 J. of L., Med. & Ethics 506 (2020).

[2] Evelyn J. Patterson, Andréa Becker & Darwin A. Baluran, Gendered Racism on the Body: An Intersectional Approach to Maternal Mortality in the United States, Population Rsch. & Pol’y Rev. 1, 2 (2022).; Reproductive Health: Infant Mortality, Ctr. for Disease Control & Prevention (Sept. 8, 2021), https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternalinfanthealth/infantmortality.htm#:~:text=Infant%20mortality%20is%20the%20death,for%20every%201%2C000%20live%20births.

[3] Taylor, supra note 11.;Rabah Kamal, Julie Hudman, & Daniel McDermott, What do we know about infant mortality in the U.S. and comparable countries? Peterson-KFF (Oct. 18, 2019), https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/infant-mortality-u-s-compare-countries/.

[4] Patterson, Becker & Baluran, supra note 12.

[5] Robin Fields, New York City Launches Committee to Review Maternal Deaths, ProPublica (Nov. 15, 2017), https://www.propublica.org/article/new-york-city-launches-committee-to-review-maternal-deaths.

[6] Donna L. Hoyert, Maternal Mortality Rates in the United States, 2020, Nat’l Ctr. for Health Stat. (Feb. 2022), https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hestat/maternal-mortality/2020/E-stat-Maternal-Mortality-Rates-2022.pdf.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Deirdre Cooper Owens & Sharla M. Fett, Black Maternal and Infant Health: Historical Legacies of Slavery, 109 Am. J. of Pub. Health 1342, 1343 (2019).

[10] Id.

[11] Kamal, Hudman, & McDermott, supra note 13.  

[12] Kamal, Hudman, & McDermott, supra note 13.  

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Kamal, Hudman, & McDermott, supra note 13.; Taylor, supra note 11 at 506, 511.

[16] Martin & Montagne, supra note 40.

[17] U.S. Dep’t of Health and Hum. Serv., supra note 26.  

[18] Kamal, Hudman, & McDermott, supra note 13.

[19] Keri Carvalho, Anna Kheyfets, Pegah Maleki, Brenna Miller, Siwaar Abouhala, Eimaan Anwar, & Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha, A Systematic Policy Review of Black Maternal Health-Related Policies Proposed Federally and in Massachusetts: 2010—2020 9 Frontiers in Pub. Health 1, 2 (Oct. 2021).

[20] Id.

[21] Taylor, supra note 11 at 506, 511.

[22] Colleen Murphy, Congresswoman Cori Bush Shared Her Pregnancy Story — And It Highlights the Inequities of Birthing While Black, Health (May 7, 2021), https://www.health.com/condition/pregnancy/congresswoman-cori-bush-pregnancy.; Congresswoman Cori Bush (@RepCori), Twitter (May 6, 2021, 12:05 PM), https://twitter.com/RepCori/status/1390352127579594753?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1390352127579594753%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.health.com%2Fcondition%2Fpregnancy%2Fcongresswoman-cori-bush-pregnancy.

[23] Congresswoman Cori Bush, supra note 2. 

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id.

[30] Id.