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Coerced Confessions

To confess to a crime means to make a voluntary statement, with full knowledge of the facts and circumstances that support that voluntary statement, that incriminates the person making the statement. This article deals with attacking the admissibility of a confession as well as attacking the credibility of a confession.

Inadmissible Confession: Sometimes a confession is rendered inadmissible as evidence against the defendant because of a technical violation by the police or the public. In other words, the confession would be considered admissible evidence but for a technical violation. This includes:

 

  • Confessions that are illegally recorded by the public (illegally recorded means the defendant did not consent to being audio recorded when she made a confession and there is no exception to that lack of consent that would allow that audio recording to be used against the defendant (See Illegal Audio Recordings for limited exceptions),

  • Confessions that are made after a delay in arraignment (Limitations Apply),

  • Confessions taken without Miranda warnings (See Miranda Rights for Exceptions), and

  • Confessions taken in violation of the defendant's right to have an attorney present during any questioning, and more.

Involuntary Statements: An involuntary statement is never a confession, even if the facts relayed by the defendant are true. This is because a confession requires a voluntary statement (See definition of confession at top). Any involuntary statement made by the defendant is usually suppressed (inadmissible). Proof that defendant's statement was made involuntarily is usually difficult as most statements by defendant's and witness are now video and audio recorded.  

Coerced Confession: Today, police officers sometimes coerce suspects into making incriminating statements. Coercion used by police to secure incriminating statements is not necessarily illegal, and often times, coercion is not even intentional. In any event, if the coercive nature of a police interrogation of a suspect is sufficient to overcome the suspect's will to tell the truth, or otherwise impacts the truth of the suspect's statement, that statement may be inadmissible (lacks voluntariness), or, more commonly, may discredit (impeach) the reliability of the statement.

All of the following circumstances may be considered when analyzing whether a confession was coerced:

  • Police promise leniency if she immediately confesses to a criminal allegation and greater punishment if she does not immediately confess,

  • Suspect interviewed by multiple officers as to the exact same questions and answers over a long period of time, which leads to a" confession,"

  • Police lying to a suspect about the statements of an alleged co-defendant, which leads to a "confession,"

  • Police mislead the suspect into believing the police have credible witnesses or video to the suspect's criminal activity, which leads to the defendant "confessing,"

  • Police hold suspect for a long period of time without food or water or a chance to visit with family while questioning suspect, which leads to a "confession,"

  • Threatening circumstances surrounding the suspect when she is being interrogated, which leads to a "confession," (locked interview room with several officers with guns interviewing in threatening tones),

  • Threats by police officers during interrogation that if the suspect does not make incriminating statement than the suspect will lose his or her immigration status o delivered to immigration authorities (ICE, DHS, etc.),

  • Implied threats to suspect's personal security in jail if she does not immediately confess, which leads to a "confession," and more.

Note: The word confession is commonly used by police officers and district attorneys to describe just about any incriminating statement made by a suspect or defendant. The problem caused for defendants by adopting or conceding that a statement is a "confession," is that it suggests the incriminating statement was made voluntarily and with knowledge of all the facts and circumstances surrounding the statement.

False Confessions: A false confession occurs when a person makes an incriminating statement against himself or herself even though he or she did not commit a crime. A false confession can be, but is not necessarily, the product of police coercion. A defense attorney should be on the look out for any incriminating statement his client makes that is not the product of police misconduct or police coercion, but is otherwise not a true statement. The reasons suspect and defendants falsely confess to crimes are varied, but usually include:

  • Suspect bragging about criminal activity to promote her gang status (usually to an undercover police officer or jail informant), even though the statement is in fact false,

  • Suspect that agrees to a set of alleged facts to a non-officer in an effort to avoid possible reporting by that non-officer to an actual officer. For example, an alleged victim informing the suspect that he or she needs to admit to wrongdoing or the alleged victim will call the police, (Common in sex crimes),

  • Suspect falsely confesses to a crime to protect another person, For example,A father falsely confesses to driving a vehicle that was involved in an accident to protect the true driver, such as a close family member. 

  • Suspect who makes a false statement, usually to a family member, to comfort an alleged victim. For example, a suspect is informed that the whole issue of criminal liability in an alleged child molestation case against a family member can go away if the defendant is willing to admit his wrongdoing (Common in sex case),

  • Suspects that make untrue and  incriminating statements to protect other third persons who might have actually committed a crime (either by threat to confess or out of concern for the third person. i.e. family or close friends), and more

Unintentional Statements: Sometimes a suspect will make an incriminating statement only because he is not aware of the facts surrounding the statement. For example, all of the following could lead to an unintentional incriminating statement: 1) language barrier that prevents the suspect from understanding the questions posed by police, 2) confusing type questioning by police (especially compound questioning during interrogation), 3) suspect intoxicated or mentally impaired, and more.

 

Lost Confession: in some cases, especially in DUI, bribery, and prostitution cases, the recorded evidence of alleged confession is lost or destroyed by the investigating officers, and therefore, rendered inadmissible (even the officer’s memory of the confession may be inadmissible if the actual recording is lost or destroyed). This is an uncommon occurrence and usually happens in sting operations where multiple defendants are arrested in short order.

If you are charged with a crime, and a prosecutor is alleging that you "confessed" to the alleged crime, contact our office today for a second opinion. Our attorneys have successfully defended even some of the most difficult criminal cases, even cases where "confessions" are played to a jury in a court of law. Call today!

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