This chapter examines the puzzling question of why an otherwise rational person would voluntarily confess to a crime, knowing full well that the state will punish in return. Even more puzzling is the phenomenon of false confessions, where an individual inexplicably confesses to a crime she did not commit, in some cases believing in her own guilt. Psychoanalysis gives us important insights into these irrational phenomena. The focus in this chapter is on the ways in which certain deceptive and degrading police interrogation tactics may override a suspect’s conscious rational decision-making powers by enlisting unconscious needs, aggressions, and guilt. Three interrogation tactics are of greatest concern: false sympathy, degradation, and trickery. As this chapter shows, false sympathy and degradation exploit deep-seated, unconscious desires for absolution and punishment that undermine the voluntariness of a suspect’s self-incriminating statements. Similarly, police trickery can take unfair advantage of a suspect’s need to rationalize unconscious guilt for a crime he did not commit. By drawing attention to the risks associated with these methods, psychoanalysis ensures that the most egregious practices can be eliminated from our criminal justice system. Psychoanalytic insights into unconscious processes advances the law’s own best ideals of fundamental fairness in the criminal law.
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