The Courts: Unacceptable Investigator Interrogation Behaviors

Written By: Joseph P. Buckley
Apr 20, 2023

The Courts: Unacceptable Investigator Interrogation Behaviors

Over the last 20 years we have published numerous court decisions on interrogation issues in an effort to keep our audience up to date with the courts’ views as to acceptable and unacceptable interrogation behaviors.

In this Tip we have reviewed 43 court decisions as to what the courts consider to be unacceptable investigator interrogation behavior. Please note: While these court decisions offer a representative sample of what the courts generally view as acceptable investigator interrogation behaviors there are undoubtedly exceptions, so every investigator should be sure to review court decisions in their jurisdiction.

Court Decisions

The following are judicial decisions in which the courts found the defendant’s confession was coerced or given in response to inappropriate investigator behavior.

Threat of harsher punishment if he did not confess

In Campos v. Stone the US District Court, N.D. California, ruled that the defendant’s incriminating statements were obtained in violation of his due process rights. From the court’s opinion:

“And their hostility came with the clear implication that Campos risked harsh consequences if he did not accede to their version of the facts: they repeatedly told him the district attorney wouldn't like it if he didn't tell them something consistent with their DNA and fingerprint evidence. While those invocations of the district attorney were not per se impermissible, it does not follow that they are irrelevant. The officers' message that Campos would be treated more harshly if he did not admit to accidental touching, combined with all the other circumstances, weighs heavily against finding Campos' confused responses to the interrogators were voluntary...”

Miranda violation

In Commonwealth v. Smith the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts overturned the lower court’s decision that the defendant’s incriminating statements were admissible. From the court’s opinion:

For approximately thirty minutes, the defendant's repeated responses to these assertions by the police were to the effect that he did not know what they were talking about, and he denied knowing the victim or the fact that she had been shot and killed. Then, the following exchange occurred:

Defendant: “I'm done.”
Tarckini: “You're done with what?”
Defendant: “I'm done talking. I don't wanna talk no more.”
Tarckini: “You don't wanna talk anymore?”
Defendant: “No. ‘Cause y'all really don't believe me.”

“It is clear that a defendant has not only the right to remain silent from the beginning but also a continuing right to cut off, at any time, any questioning that does take place.” ... In these circumstances, the defendant's statement, “I'm done,” by itself, was ambiguous, coming as it did as a nonresponse to a long series of statements by Tarckini and Escobar about what the police already knew. In this context, Tarckini's question to the defendant, “You're done with what?” was an appropriate effort to clarify.... But the defendant's immediate and direct answer, “I'm done talking. I don't wanna talk no more,” was certainly a clarifying response to Tarckini's inquiry, one that resolved completely the previous ambiguity, and asserted in no uncertain terms the defendant's desire and intention to end the interrogation. As discussed, when the defendant invoked his right to terminate questioning, the police were required immediately to end the interview.

Coerced through the use of false evidence

In Gray v. Commonwealth the Supreme Court of Kentucky ruled that the defendant’s confession was coerced through the use of false evidence. From the court’s opinion:

Interrogators presented Gray a fake document purporting to originate from the Kentucky State Police linking his parents' DNA to his vehicle….. A confession obtained by police through trickery is not a new issue for us..... “the mere employment of a ruse, or ‘strategic deception,’ does not render a confession involuntary so long as the ploy does not rise to the level of compulsion or coercion.” In essence, we have refused to hold that intentional police misinformation by itself makes a confession involuntary….. statements deceptively overstating the evidence against a criminal defendant during interrogation fall within the trickery we have traditionally tolerated. But we have never faced a situation where deceptive interrogation tactics
included fake reports made to link DNA evidence to the defendant.

When a criminal defendant, like Gray, can establish that the police use falsified documents to induce a confession, we will presume this tactic is unconstitutional until the Commonwealth can firmly establish that the document(s) did not overwhelm the defendant's will and was not a critical factor in the defendant's decision to confess.

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