If I were to walk into the police station and confess to a crime I did not commit - that wasn't even under investigation - can they arrest or charge me just because I gave a confession?

  • 2
    Do you mean arrest/charge you for making a false confession? – DJohnM Jun 22 '16 at 21:52
  • @DJohnM Interesting, but no. I meant arrest you for the non-existent crime you confessed to – Fueled By Coffee Jun 23 '16 at 18:08

Neither with or without a warrant, if the confession is all there is. For a felony, the question is whether there is probable cause (4th Amendment). This is true whether the police arrest you, or they get a warrant – the difference being that in the latter case the warrant is issued by a guy with much greater knowledge of what constitutes probable cause. The question then would be whether a confession alone constitutes probable cause. There is a venerable rule, the corpus delecti rule (300+ years old) that requires there to be independent evidence of a crime, the point of this rule being to to prevent mentally ill people from being convicted of a crime that never even happened. Under that rule, a confession alone would not be probable cause (but a confession and a bloody glove could be).

This article reports that at the federal level and in 10 states, there is a lower bar of mere "corroboration" without the need to argue that there was an actual crime. Exemplifying this relaxing of the traditional rule, in Opper v. United States, 348 U.S. 84, the court held that "[a]n accused's extrajudicial admissions of essential facts or elements of the crime, made subsequent to the crime, are of the same character as confessions, and corroboration by independent evidence is required". However, "[t]he corroborative evidence need not be sufficient, independent of the statements, to establish the corpus delicti" and "[i]t is sufficient if the corroboration supports the essential facts admitted sufficiently to justify a jury inference of their truth; but those facts plus the other evidence must be sufficient to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt". In such jurisdictions, courts take a "totality of circumstances" approach focusing on whether the confession is trustworthy.


I'm sorry, while I'm not a lawyer, I believe Zizouz212 is wrong. -

We know, for a start, that the confession was made to a law enforcement officer and that it was not made under duress.

Thus it can be used to establish probable cause. Further, confessions can be entered for the truth of their contents provided they are used against, rather then for the person making them.

So, yes, a police officer could make an arrest or charge based on the confession - whether they do that on the spot or after further investigation is another issue, and would vary per police department.

Here are some cases/stories which bear this thinking out (granted, they are not in USA) -

  • I'm confused. Were those confessions made under oath? Further, who would make note of the confession in court. An officer? No. That would be hearsay. Was it written? Sure, that's evidence! Did the police question her to get a trial? Almost certainly. The police can't arrest solely based on that confession not under oath. Again, that doesn't stop them from questioning you further, or creating a case out of it. – Zizouz212 Jun 23 '16 at 12:08
  • A confession does not need to be made under oath to be acceptable, and admissions against ones own interest are an exceptin to the heresay rule. This happens in a police station, not a court. When police question you, your answers are admissible in court - so officers can arrest you on a confession - even if its not under oath. – davidgo Jun 23 '16 at 18:39
  • Umm... Nope. A police station is no different then a public park. It still needs to be under oath. Again, The police can't arrest solely based on that confession not under oath. – Zizouz212 Jun 23 '16 at 19:41
  • Why does it need to be under oath ? pandullolaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Blog/2013/February/…, also section "B" at lawreform.ie/_fileupload/consultation%20papers/wphearsay.htm and vanuatu.usp.ac.fj/courses/LA310_Evidence/… all speak against your position. – davidgo Jun 23 '16 at 23:57
  • @Zizouz212: "The police can't arrest solely based on that confession not under oath" - I am pretty sure that is false in England and Wales. Don't assume that all jurisdictions are the same; they most certainly are not. – Martin Bonner supports Monica Nov 23 '16 at 17:03

They can look into it. Nothing will stop them from that. But to arrest you, they'll need a warrant. To get a warrant, they need to find evidence. Also, the confession you give will never be admissible in a court of law, when the contents of the confession are offered as truth - this is because it wasn't made under oath. However, they can use the confession as a starting point if ever asked why you were being investigated or looked into.

If it was found that you intended to mislead and/or intended to cause problems for the police officers there, or to basically just cause a problem, you may be charged for Obstructing Justice or Public Mischief.

  • can you back up your assertions ? They run contrary to my understanding which is that the confession IS evidence. Further, I understand that confessions are absolutely admissible in a court, even if they are not made under oath - indeed I understand this to be a staple used by police. (That there are specific laws which define exceptions to the hearsay rule for confessions should pretty much cause your position to unravel - see pandullolaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Blog/2013/February/… ) – davidgo Jun 22 '16 at 21:17
  • @davidgo I never said that the confessions can't be entered as evidence - but rather that the confession cannot be entered for the truth of it's contents. If I say to a police officer "I can fly", the officer can tell the court that I said this. There are so many rules around this, and so many circumstances to consider, that you can't give a definite answer. This is the general use case. It depends on the charge. Where the confession was made. Who it was made to. The condition of the person who gave the confession. Whether the confession can be considered a "declaration against interest"... – Zizouz212 Jun 22 '16 at 21:19
  • 1
    They don't need a warrant in most states if they have probable cause for arrest... Maybe if the person is outside the police station and at home they do, but if the person walked into a police station and confessed I believe the police can arrest that person. – Viktor Jun 23 '16 at 2:55
  • @Viktor Hmm... They may take them in for further questioning, such as getting them to make an affidavit or something, but definitely not arrest. It probably varies by jurisdiction. If I walked into a police station, and said "I killed someone" - they can't arrest me. They don't have enough evidence. However, that doesn't stop them from questioning me or seriously making a case out of it. – Zizouz212 Jun 23 '16 at 12:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.