False Confessions: The Attitude and Approach of Canadian Courts

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

B. L. Berger, E. Cunliffe, and J. Stribopoulos, To Ensure that Justice is Done, (Toronto: Thomson Reuters Canada, 2017)


in 1923, in his treatise on the law of evidence, J.H. Wigmore wrote that false confessions were "scarcely conceivable" and were not a real concern for criminal justice as "no trustworthy figures of authenticated instances exist." nine years later, over 200 people falsely confessed to the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby. Nonetheless, it took six more decades for the Supreme Court of Canada to explicitly acknowledge that "a large body of literature has developed documenting hundreds of cases where confessions have been proven false by DNA evidence, subsequent confessions by the true perpetrator, and other such independent sources of evidence." This slow and belated recognition is a reflection of the common-sense intuition that rational actors do not falsely take responsibility for heinous crimes absent clear evidence of "fear of prejudice or hope of advantage." The conventional wisdom comfortably assumes that a voluntary confession is a truthful confession. In acknowledging the phenomenon of false confession, the Supreme Court also recognized that "research with mock juries indicates that people find it difficult to believe that someone would confess falsely."

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