Courts affirm interrogation techniques that are often mischaracterized by false confession experts

Written By: Reid
Feb 10, 2015
Courts affirm interrogation techniques that are often mischaracterized by false confession experts

In our Legal Updates Summer 2014 we have several cases that we wanted to highlight for our audience that specifically affirm interrogation techniques that false confession critics often mischaracterize and associate with false confession topics.

1. Misrepresenting evidence:

False confession experts ofttimes testify that when the police misrepresent evidence to the suspect (for example, that there was a DNA match) there is a high probability that it will cause a false confession. In actuality it is not the misrepresentation of evidence that is the impetus, but rather the "aggravating circumstances" otherwise present during the interrogation. Here are two cases addressing the issue of misrepresenting evidence to the suspect.

In Jefferson v. State (July 2014) the Supreme Court of Nevada found that "Jefferson's argument that his confession was rendered involuntary by the detectives' deceptive interrogation techniques is unavailing. Jefferson argues that the detectives misrepresented DNA evidence by exaggerating what DNA evidence could reveal to them and the time frame in which they would learn the information. However, "an officer's lie about the strength of the evidence against the defendant is, in itself, insufficient to make the confession involuntary."
Furthermore, in US v. Graham (June 2014) the US District Court, N.D. Georgia, pointed out that misrepresenting evidence is "one factor to consider among the totality of the circumstances in determining voluntariness." ... However, "[c]ourts have been reluctant to deem trickery by the police a basis for excluding a confession on the ground that the tricks made the confession coerced and thus involuntary."

The court points out that there are a number of cases in which statements elicited from a defendant in response to police deception were found involuntary,.... but "these cases all involve significant aggravating circumstances not present here, such as, subjecting the accused to an exhaustingly long interrogation, the application of physical force or the threat to do so, or the making of a promise that induces a confession."

In other words, it is not the misrepresentation of evidence that is the genesis of a coerced or even false confession, but the "aggravating circumstances" present during the interrogation.

2. The accident scenario:

False confession experts ofttimes testify that when the police suggest to the suspect that the shooting may have been an accident, it is tantamount to a promise of leniency and that it is likely to cause an innocent person to confess. Here are two cases addressing the issue of suggesting that the die may have been caused accidentally.
In State v. Turner (May 2014) the Nebraska Supreme Court held that misinformation by police officers during the defendant's interview that felony murder would receive a lesser sentence than premeditated murder did not overcome defendant's will so as to render his confession involuntary based on purported promises of leniency. From the court's opinion: "Turner argues that his confession was involuntary because it was induced by an implied promise that he would receive a lesser sentence if he confessed that the shooting was accidental. As evidence of this implied promise, he points to Ficenec's statements that it made "a big difference" how and why the shooting occurred..." After an examination of the totality of circumstances the court rejected this argument and found the confession admissible.

In Smith v. State (June 2014) the Supreme Court of Georgia held that statements by the police detectives during a custodial interrogation to the effect that shooting the victim was an accident in response to the victim lunging at the defendant did not constitute a slightest hope of benefit that could render defendant's confession inadmissible.

3. Confession voluntariness:

In People v. McIntyre (May 2014) the Colorado Supreme Court laid out 13 factors that they consider in the evaluation of the voluntariness of a confession:

  1. whether the defendant was in custody;

  2. whether the defendant was free to leave;

  3. whether the defendant was aware of the situation;

  4. whether the police read Miranda rights to the defendant;

  5. whether the defendant understood and waived Miranda rights;

  6. whether the defendant had an opportunity to confer with counsel or anyone else prior to or during the interrogation;

  7. whether the statement was made during the interrogation or volunteered later;

  8. . whether the police threatened [the] defendant or promised anything directly or impliedly;

  9. the method [or style] of the interrogation;

  10. the defendant's mental and physical condition just prior to the interrogation;

  11. the length of the interrogation;

  12. the location of the interrogation; and

  13. the physical conditions of the location where the interrogation occurred.