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Confess has several different meanings, but in the legal context, it is generally used to characterize the admission of wrongdoing and is usually an adverse statement to that individual confessing. In criminal law, to confess is when one voluntarily states that one is guilty of a criminal offense. Essentially, it is an admission of guilt. A confession can be given to a law enforcement officer or in court prior to the arrest, upon arrest, or after arrest when one has been charged with a specific crime. A confession has to be truly voluntary. In other words, it cannot coerced nor can the confession be forced by threat, torture, or trickery. A confession cannot be admitted during trial unless the individual arrested, also known as the defendant during trial, was given the Miranda warnings during the time of arrest or when it was clear that the individual was the prime suspect. The Miranda warnings are based on the Fifth Amendment prohibition against self-incrimination. If an individual states that they are guilty of a criminal offense but they were not given the respective Miranda warnings, then it is not considered a true confession that was voluntarily given.

Confess can also be used in other contexts. For instance, there is a document known as a “warrant for an attorney to confess judgment.”

Although used interchangeably, there is sometimes a slight difference between confess, the act of admitting guilt, and a confession, which is sometimes seen as a written statement admitting all facts necessary to establish guilt and for conviction of a crime.

In civil cases, a confession is sometimes also known as a statement against interest.

[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]