Court upholds investigators using minimization techniques and suggesting justifications for the crime

Written By: Reid
Feb 06, 2019

In Gomez v. California (January 2019) the US District Court, E.D. California, upheld the lower court's decision to admit the incriminating statements made by the defendant who was convicted of twelve counts of committing forcible lewd acts upon a child under fourteen years old. In reviewing the admissibility of the defendant's confession, the District Court stated that no single factor is dispositive in evaluating the voluntariness of a statement, and whether the confession is voluntary depends on the totality of circumstance. Fromm the District Court's opinion:

Relevant considerations concerning whether an interrogation is coercive include the length of the interrogation, its location, and its continuity, as well as the defendant's maturity, education, physical condition, and mental health. In assessing police tactics that are allegedly coercive, courts have only prohibited those psychological ploys which are so coercive they tend to produce a statement that is both involuntary and unreliable under all of the circumstances. Investigators are permitted to ask tough questions, exchange information, summarize evidence, outline theories, confront, contradict, and even debate with a suspect - They may accuse the suspect of lying and urge him or her to tell the truth. Investigators can suggest the defendant may not have been the actual perpetrator, or may not have intended a murder victim to die. They can suggest possible explanations of events and offer a defendant the opportunity to provide details of the crime. Absent improper threats or promises, there is no constitutional principle forbidding the suggestion by authorities that it is worse for a defendant to lie in the presence of overwhelming and incriminating evidence...Deception does not undermine the voluntariness of a defendant's statements to investigators unless it is of a type reasonably likely to procure an untrue statement.

A confession is not invalidated simply because the possibility of a death sentence was discussed beforehand, but only where the confession results directly from the threat such punishment will be imposed if the suspect is uncooperative- coupled with a promise of leniency in exchange for cooperation. Suggestions by investigators that killings may have been accidental or resulted from a fit of rage during a drunken blackout fall far short of promises of lenient treatment in exchange for cooperation. This is especially the case where detectives did not represent that the prosecutor or court would grant the defendant any particular benefit if he told them how the killings occurred.

Defendant's minimization argument fails to convince us the detectives interrogated him by improper coercive means. The detectives presented defendant with justifications for his crime, suggesting A.C. may have consented in the conduct. The detectives told him several times he was lying and asked him to tell the truth. The detectives speculated about the facts of the case and suggested defendant was in love with A.C., that they were in a relationship, and even that she may have initiated some sexual contact. A technique allowing the defendant to share the blame with the victim is permissible and does not render a confession the product of undue psychological coercion. The questions and hypotheticals posed did not imply defendant was innocent or suggest there would be no criminal charges against him. The detectives conducted permissible questioning. Neither detective made an improper promise or threat to defendant. The "minimization" by detectives of defendant's conduct included no promise of leniency from the prosecutor or the trial court.

The minimization used by the detectives was not employed to suggest to defendant he was innocent of any crime, and there was no mention of leniency. No threats were employed by the detectives to coerce defendant. After Skrinde suggested defendant and A.C. were in a relationship, Garcia stated this could change everything. But rather than implying defendant's innocence, Garcia immediately suggested defendant forced A.C. to have anal sex. This interrogation technique did not minimize defendant's culpability. Defendant initially denied the detectives' suggestion that he had a relationship with A.C. Later, defendant admitted molesting A.C. but denied using force. In summary, defendant has not demonstrated his interrogators used impermissible coercive techniques that overborne his will. Defendant cooperated with the detectives and his conduct was voluntary.

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