Ambrogio Moretti


How to convince others you're innocent when accussed of a crime

Pretending to be perfect is likely to lower your credibility.

The psychology of deception has long been an interest of mine and one of the most powerful questions has always been around what do those who are accused of serious crimes do to convince others they are innocent?

A study by Prof Weylin Sternglanz reveals some interesting findings, even if they may not be applicable to all crimes such as murder.

It was discovered that people who outright deny an accusation of a serious crime are not as convincing as those who admit to a lesser offence.

If you were accused of cheating in an exam, those who completely denied the accusation were less likely to be thought of as innocent than those who claimed they didn't cheat but admit seeing others doing so and didn't report it. 

In another study, people described times they were accused of serious non-lethal offences (such as cheating on their partners,  drink driving, theft). In these cases people used different ways to try to convince strangers of their innocence.

The two main strategies were:

  1. Refuting the accusation outright
  2. Admitting to a lesser offence

Other options that were employed include:

  • accusing the accuser of an offence (a counter-accusation)
  • explaining why the accuser has decided to make you a suspect
  • admitting to a lesser offence that is unrelated to the real accusation
  • not responding to the accusation at all by way of "no comment"

Across all the options it was discovered that people who admitted to a lesser offence were more likely to be found innocent than those who denied the accusation completely.  The other options had some effectiveness but none of them were more effective than admitting to the lesser  crime.

This basically boils down to the important point that you need to be seen as someone who is honest. By admitting to minor failings, and therefore accepting you're not perfect, you come across as more honest than those who insist they did nothing wrong at all.