What is an admission of guilt?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 29, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Note: This article is not a replacement for legal advice. Consult an attorney for any questions related to matters in the court of law.

Terms used in legal and psychological settings can be challenging to understand. One of these terms is "admission of guilt." Understanding why and how this term is used may help you know when an admission has been made and how to find support if you're struggling to open up about a situation you feel guilty about.

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Have you been holding onto a guilty confession?

Stress in the legal process

An admission of guilt is legally defined as a statement by someone accused of a crime that they committed the offense. Often, the statement is accurate. However, there may be cases where admissions of guilt are coerced or otherwise manipulated to close a case or make someone appear guilty.

When you—or someone close to you—are accused of a crime—it can be difficult to process your emotions. You might not be sure what your emotions are, as they could change with each unfolding event. Understanding admissions of guilt in the court of law may help you understand your options in this scenario. 

An overview of false confessions

If lying were impossible, admissions of guilt could be sound, solid, and foolproof. However, some individuals who admit to being guilty of crimes may not be telling the truth. Various factors can contribute to false confessions.

Individuals with low logical reasoning abilities, people-pleasing tendencies, or mental health conditions may sometimes struggle to make honest confessions. These people may struggle to resist authority, especially in stressful situations. Moreover, some of these individuals may not comprehend the gravity of the charges against them and the subsequent consequences of admitting to a crime.

When law enforcement believes a suspect committed a crime, they often employ strategies to garner a confession. These include suggesting that the suspect was antagonized or otherwise made an innocent mistake. Authorities may suggest that the suspect falsely recalls events or that existing evidence contradicts their current account. These strategies may cause an innocent person to doubt themselves. Some of the most intense legal interrogations lasted longer than 24 hours. People who are innocent but struggle to take the pressure may admit to a crime they didn't commit for this reason. 

False admissions of guilt can be dangerous and problematic. Not only can they put an innocent individual behind bars, but coerced admissions of guilt may also allow the real culprit to escape and continue breaking the law. Specialists have warned against the adverse effects of extreme interrogation techniques. As frustrating as it can be for law enforcement officials who believe they have the culprit when a confession is not forthcoming, false confessions can worsen matters.

The importance of Miranda Rights

Legally, admissions of guilt are confessions to a crime. Thus, when a person confesses, they face the consequences of the crime. However, to hold up in a court of law, admissions of guilt must be made under the proper circumstances.

Individuals are allowed to provide admissions of guilt to law enforcement officers or a court. However, one critical factor can change the situation: the reading of Miranda Rights. Law enforcement officers who neglect to read Miranda Rights to arrestees cannot present admissions of guilt as evidence in court. By law, each person has the right to be read the Miranda Rights at the time of their arrest.

The Miranda Rights include the right to be silent, the right to an attorney, and other rights. While reading these rights, law enforcement officers explain that "anything you say and do can and will be used against you in a court of law." The Miranda Rights exist so that people know their legal rights as they are taken into custody.

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Admission of guilt after the fact

When considering an admission of guilt, you might imagine the confession happening before the legal proceedings. Often, confessions that occur after the case proceedings aren't used due to a law referred to as double jeopardy. Double jeopardy mandates that an individual cannot be tried more than once for the alleged commission of a crime. Even if the person is legally found innocent and later admits or brags about their breach of the law, the court may not be able to do much. 

There are many debates regarding double jeopardy and whether this doctrine should be maintained or abolished. Critics of double jeopardy have called the law "outdated," stating that times have changed, and conclusive evidence could emerge later in the process, proving the guilt of a previously absolved person. Conversely, people who support double jeopardy state that its abolishment could lead to coercion of witness accounts and otherwise provide leeway for innocent people to be found guilty of crimes they did not commit.

Inadvertent admissions of guilt

Confessions of crimes can manifest in various forms. For example, the role of technology in modern society has provided an avenue for people who admit to crimes on social media to face legal consequences

Some people may not realize that their social media posts can be legally interpreted as admissions of guilt. However, in cases where laws have been broken, finding the culprit can mean scrolling through their social media pages. Online posts may seem unassuming, but they can have real-life consequences.

Posting information online and later taking it down may also not save people from legal consequences. Law enforcement can subpoena social media outlets to uncover taken-down posts and content. For this reason, once you post, what you've written or admitted to is present online forever. 

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Have you been holding onto a guilty confession?

Mental health support options 

Going through a legal process or being close to someone going through the process can be stressful. You may be nervous as you wait for the verdict. Talking with a therapist can help you process these emotions in a healthy, productive way. 

In the 21st century, four out of ten Americans choose to turn online to speak with a trusted therapist without having to leave home. Recent studies show that electronically delivered cognitive-behavioral therapy can reduce depression and anxiety symptoms more effectively than face-to-face therapy. The analysis considered 17 randomized controlled study trials to come to this conclusion. 

Online therapy platforms like BetterHelp can connect you with thousands of licensed professional therapists from home. You can choose between phone, video, or live chat session formats and receive extra benefits like journal prompts, support groups, and webinars by experts.  

Takeaway

Breaking the law can have serious and sometimes lifelong consequences. Moreover, admissions of guilt may not be required to charge and convict an individual of a crime formally. The healthiest course of action is to abstain from committing crimes. However, if you are experiencing guilt due to a legal proceeding, consider contacting a licensed professional to talk. A therapist is not a replacement for an attorney but can offer mental health advice. In addition, you can meet with a provider online if you struggle to find someone in your area.
Release the weight of guilt
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