The Effect of Physical Illnesses on Fitness for Interview

The presence of any physical illness renders an individual more vulnerable when faced with a stressful situation, such as a custodial interrogation. Features, such as anxiety or depression, affect a person's ability to function during the police interview, and physical illness—especially if severe—is as likely to cause anxiety and depression as any other form of stress (87). The severity of the emotional response will depend on the nature of the illness itself, the personality of the individual, and social circumstances. Suspects who are already coping with physical illness are more likely to focus on the short-term consequences of their behavior than the long-term outcomes, thus increasing the risk that they might provide a false confession (52).

Because the effect of physical illness on a person's coping strategy is not disease-specific, depending more on the actual or perceived severity of the illness rather than the nature of the illness itself, the actual diagnosis is unimportant. By contrast, there are many physical illnesses in which characteristic disturbances in cognitive functioning have been recognized (88). With these illnesses, the nature and degree of the mental disturbance produced depends entirely on the diagnosis of the underlying condition. The more common of the conditions encountered in custody are discussed in the following subheadings.

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