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Saturday, April 8, 2017

The Compulsion to Confess

     Daniel Webster once observed that "the guilty soul cannot keep its own secret." Confession is the voice of conscience, and, as any police officer will tell you, men and women generally have a natural compulsion to confess: to tell their misdeeds, to take their punishment, and to move on, even though they may realize it is not in their interest to do so. Dr. Theodor Reik, in a series of lectures given to the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association first published in 1925 and fittingly called The Compulsion to Confess, discusses this special dilemma: "There is the endeavor to deflect any suspicion from himself, to efface all traces of the crime, and an impulse growing more and more intense suddenly to cry out his secret in the street before all people, or in milder cases, to confide it at least to one person, to free himself from the terrible burden."

     Of course, there are exceptions to this inner urge. There are persons without consciences to whom an armed robbery is no more significant than a sneeze or a cough. Hardened criminals and those schooled in the ways of the criminal justice system will usually successfully resist the temptation to bare all to the police although they often relieve their urge to confess by confiding in friends, casual acquaintances they meet in taverns, and cellmates. Indeed, law enforcement investigators are frequently able to solve crimes because they learn of these informal confessions.

Ralph Adam Fine, "The Urge to Confess," in Criminal Justice?, Robert James Bidinotto, ed, 1994 

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