Legal Updates February 2008

Misrepresenting evidence during the interrogation

In the case of Brown v. Mississippi, the Court of Appeals, using the totality of circumstances test, upheld the admissibility of the defendant's confession even though he claimed he was intoxicated at the time of the interrogation; that he could not read or write; and that the police lied to him (falsely telling him that a blacklight test of the house uncovered traces of his semen) during the interrogation. Click here for the complete decision.

Court rejects expert testimony on false confession experts in four more cases

In the case of US v. Dixon, the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals upheld the district court's decision to reject the testimony of Dr. Gregory DeClue re the issue of false confessions, stating that "Here, the district court determined that Dr. DeClue added nothing more than abstract scientific nostrums. Dr. DeClue's proffered testimony did not apply recognized or accepted principles to Dixon's particular circumstances. Instead, it offered only the general proposition that false confessions can occur." Click here for the complete decision.

In the case of US v. Freeman, the US Court of Appeals for the Armed Services upheld the lower court's decision to reject the request for expert testimony on the issue of police interrogation techniques stating, "The military judge concluded that "none of the factors/practices identified [in an article] by Dr. Ofshe [one of the proponents of the theory] are particularly complex or counter-intuitive" and counsel "should require no expert assistance or testimony to elicit the pertinent facts and argue to the finder of fact why those facts make their client's admissions to the [AF]OSI unreliable...." Click here for the complete decision.

In the case of People v. Crews, the defense sought to call Dr. Solomon Fulero as an expert witness on the issue of false confessions. The Court held "that the subject of whether a person has falsely confessed 'does not depend upon professional or scientific knowledge or skill not within the range of ordinary training or intelligence,' and therefore, 'there is no occasion to resort to expert testimony.'" The Court also rejected the arguments by Dr. Saul Kassin who wrote in one of his articles that there are three reasons why jurors need the assistance of expert testimony in this area are:

  1. First, generalized common sense leads us to trust confessions, a behavior that breaches self-interest in a profound way (most people believe they would never confess to a crime they did not commit and they cannot image the circumstances under which anyone would do so.)
  2. A second basis for pessimism is that people are typically not adept at deception detection.
  3. A third basis for pessimism is that police-induced confessions, unlike other types of verbal statements, are corrupted by the very process of interrogation that elicits them -- designed for persuasion, even if false.
"The Court finds these rationale are totally unpersuasive as to the need for jurors to receive expert testimony on this subject. The reasons set forth ignore the fundamental foundation upon which our adversarial system of justice is based. As already discussed, the Criminal Jury Instructions clearly contemplate that these are areas which jurors are fully capable of evaluating. The issues and arguments that are cited by Dr. Kassin are potential areas to cross examine a law enforcement witness that is testifying about an admission or confession." Click here for the complete decision.

In the case of People v. Madrigal, the California Fifth District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court's decision to exclude the testimony of Dr. Avak A. Howsepian who at a hearing outside of the presence of the jury testified that the defendant suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder, attention deficit disorder, acute stress disorder, anxiety and depressive disorders and was therefore more susceptible to giving a false confession. Click here for the complete decision.

Ambiguous requests for a lawyer

In two cases the courts upheld the admissibility of the defendants' confessions because their requests for a lawyer were not direct and unequivocal. In the case of Dalton v. Texas, the Court of Appeals found that the defendant's statement to the police "Would you give my friends my keys that are in my pocket?...When you give my friends the keys, could you tell them to get a lawyer?" was not an unequivocal invocation of the defendant's right to counsel. Click here for the complete decision.

In the case of State v. Gobert, the Texas Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in finding that the following statement from the defendant represented an unequivocal request for a lawyer: "I don't want to give up any right, though, if I don't got no lawyer." Click here for the complete decision.

Lying to a suspect during an interrogation

In the case of People v. Moore, the California Court of Appeal, Second District, upheld the admissibility of the suspect's confession even though the interrogator lied about the defendant being identified as one of the perpetrators by a survivor and lied about an accomplice passing a polygraph test after he named the defendant as the shooter. "Police trickery that occurs in the process of a criminal interrogation does not, by itself, render a confession involuntary." In their opinion the Court stated, "In the instant case, the circumstances surrounding appellant's incriminating statement do not establish "prejudicial deception." The detectives were doing nothing more than asserting that they had more proof than they actually had." Click here for the complete decision.

Defendant claims that the police used unfair interrogation tactics when they appealed to his religious beliefs to obtain a confession.

In the case of State v. Farmer, interrogators made the following statements to the defendant:
  • Whatever you did, whatever happened, okay, the most important thing to remember is that God can forgive everything, but.... To do that, you have to be honest.
  • God wants you to tell the truth, Darrell. That's the most important thing. God wants you to be honest and help yourself.
  • It sounds kinda corny, kinda cliche, but the truth will set you free.
The Supreme Court of Kansas found that "when viewed in the totality of the circumstances, Farmer has failed to establish how the detectives' conduct during the interrogation unfairly deprived him of his free and independent will. We conclude that the trial court correctly determined that Farmer's confession was voluntary and properly admitted it at his trial." Click here for the complete decision.

Cases illustrate the value of recording the interrogation

In the case of State v. Decker, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's decision to admit a videotaped interrogation, that had been suppressed during the State's case-in-chief for constitutional violations, as rebuttal evidence to combat an insanity defense. The tape was introduced to "see the defendant and observe his demeanor." Click here for the complete decision.

In the case of People v. Morrison, the California Court of Appeal, Third District, reviewed both the transcript and the videotaped interrogation of the defendant and rejected her claim that her confession was involuntary because she was not properly advise of her rights. Click here for the complete decision.

Court upholds voluntary nature of a confession developed over a 12 hour period

In the case of State v. Brown the Supreme Court of Kansas upheld the lower court's decision that the confession was voluntary. In reaching their decision the court reviewed the videotape of the interrogation and found that "Brown was advised of his Miranda rights, waived those rights, and agreed to speak with the officers. Also, Brown was 21 years old at the time of the interview, appeared to be a person of reasonable intelligence, and had previous exposure to the criminal justice system. As for the officers' interrogation techniques, the trial court found they were not overly aggressive and the officers did not promise Brown anything or threaten him in any way. Further, although Brown was held in the interrogation room for nearly 12 hours and was handcuffed to the table, the actual interview time totaled just under 5 hours. And in the periods between questioning, during which the officers stopped to investigate various aspects of the case based on information gleaned from Brown, it appeared that Brown was napping. Brown was also given breaks to use the restroom and to eat a meal." Click here for the complete decision.

Interrogator's statements he could "call a judge and talk to him" and that he could "actually help alot" were improper

In the case of People v. Forest C. the California Sixth District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court's decision to admit the confession of a 15 year old, but they found that the statements made by the interrogator that he could "call a judge and talk to him" and that he could "actually help alot" were improper. The Appellate Court stated, "Here, based on the deputy's statements that he could "call a judge" and "actually help" the minor, the minor was "given to understand that he might reasonably expect benefits in the nature of more lenient treatment at the hands of the police, prosecution or court in consideration of making a statement"-which is improper.

However, even recognizing the officer's conduct as improper, we find no basis for reversing the juvenile court's explicit determination that the interrogation techniques did not overbear the minor's will to resist. "A confession is 'obtained' by a promise within the proscription of both the federal and state due process guaranties if and only if inducement and statement are linked, as it were, by 'proximate' causation." ( People v. Benson, supra, 52 Cal.3d at p. 778.) In this case, the inducement and the minor's statement are not linked. Here, the court found it "abundantly clear that Forest knew that he didn't have to answer questions and he didn't have to cooperate with law enforcement" and "that he wasn't intimidated." The record supports that finding. The minor did not make the inculpatory statements in response to the officer's promises or threats. To the contrary, even after those inducements were made, the minor adamantly adhered to his story that he knew nothing and was a mere bystander. As the People point out, the minor admitted burning one or more posters only after learning that Sam had implicated him. (See People v. Belmontes, supra, 45 Cal.3d at p. 774 ["factual detail revealed in the officers' questions" led the defendant to conclude that his fellow suspects "had 'snitched him off' "].) On this record, we cannot agree that the deputy's inducements were the motivating cause of the minor's inculpatory statements." Click here for the complete decision.