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Although at first you might wonder why someone would confess to a crime they did not commit, false confessions do exist.


The case of the farmer Rupp gained particular notoriety in Germany: He disappeared after a visit to a pub. Family members subsequently confessed to having beaten him to death, cut him up and fed him to the dogs. Several years after their conviction, the body of the alleged victim and his car were recovered from the Danube - the confessions could not have been correct.


False confessions can have different reasons: For example, in criminal proceedings, the accused may be offered the prospect of a lighter sentence in the event of a plea bargain - with a confession - than could be expected without a plea bargain. If he assesses his chances of acquittal poorly, even though he is innocent, this can tempt him to make a false confession.

Equally conceivable is a false confession as a result of suggestive (influencing) questioning by investigating officers. False memories can also give rise to false confessions, as can false testimony.


An interesting first introduction to the topic is offered by the series "The Confession Tapes" (Netflix).


According to surveys by the National Registry of Exonerations, false confessions were (partly) responsible for 12 percent of the wrongful convictions registered there in US criminal proceedings.


In German criminal proceedings, a false confession can only be considered as a ground for reopening in favor of the convicted person if, in addition, there are new facts or evidence which, alone or in conjunction with the evidence obtained earlier, are suitable to justify an acquittal, a lesser punishment under a more lenient penal provision, or a substantially different decision on a measure of correction and protection (Section 359 No. 5 StPO).

A new fact in this sense may be the later revocation of the confession. In this case, the application for reopening should contain not only serious indications of the incorrectness of the earlier statements, but also a plausible explanation for the earlier false confession.

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