Iowa Supreme Court - Use of Deception Did Not Negate the Defendant’s Waiver of Miranda Rights
State of Iowa v. Gowun Park, Iowa Supreme Court, No. 21-0756, January 27, 2023.
The court in this case noted that the our legal system tolerates some deception by law enforcement. But when a suspect is being questioned, law enforcement may not use deception that overcomes the suspect’s free will and may not make deceptive promises that would be likely to trigger a false confession. In this case, a man died of strangulation after being zip-tied up in a chair in his apartment. His wife was the only other person present. The wife claimed, improbably, that he had tied himself up. After interviewing her at the
apartment, police officers took her to the police station, Mirandized her, and questioned her further about how her husband came to be tied up.
Initially, the officers told the woman falsely that doctors were still working to try to save the man’s life – a deception they corrected only about an hour and a half into the interview. The detectives also made various reassurances and suggestions: that nobody deserves to be abused; that “people would understand” if she was a victim of domestic abuse; that if an accident had occurred, they needed to know; and that they were there to “help” her. The wife continued to claim that her husband had tied himself up. The wife was released but was arrested several days later and charged with murdering her husband.
On review the court found that the officers’ deception did not exceed what our legal system tolerates. The court ruled that the lie about whether the man had been pronounced dead didn’t affect the woman’s essentially knowing and voluntary waiver of her Miranda rights. The officers’ blandishments and expressions of sympathy did not amount to concrete promises of leniency – either express or implied – that would create a fair risk of a false confession. Accordingly, the court vacated the lower court’s decision and reversed the trial court’s suppressing this interview and subsequent interviews. It also affirmed the court of appeals decision that reversed the district court and found the immediate on-the-scene questioning following the woman’s 911 call was noncustodial and admissible.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The Defendant’s 911 Call and the Arrival of Paramedics and Police. Defendant Gowun Park had a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a Ph.D. from universities in the United States. She was teaching economics at Simpson College at the time of her husband Sung Woo Nam’s death. Park had lived in the United States for the last twenty years. Although Korean is her native language, she was fluent in English.