On behalf of Southworth and Stamman, LLC on Monday, March 18, 2013.
Everyone has seen movies and television shows where police were interrogating someone the police believed committed a crime. In Murder by Numbers, Detective Mayweather (Sandra Bullock) and her partner separated two suspects and lied to the suspects that the other was confessing in order to get them talking. In other shows, violence is used, promises are made, anything is done in order to get the suspect to tell the truth. In Hollywood, the police officer is able to do just about anything to get the desired confession. But how far can they really go?
As requested by a member of our Southworth and Stamman Facebook Page, we received an inquiry on the subject: Can an officer make false promises in exchange for an admission of guilt? Unfortunately, I must give the common and annoyingly typical lawyer responses, "it depends" and "maybe." But don't worry, I won't stop there.
Police Confession: Promises in Exchange for Confession of GulitIn the past, any promise given in exchange for a confession was ruled inadmissible in court. This means that a confession given after a promise would not have been allowed to be used against you. But this is not necessarily the rule anymore. Now, the determination will be based on the "totality of the circumstances." In other words, the courts will look at the confession as a whole, including characteristics of the accused (age and intelligence) and details of the interrogation. Courts have allowed confessions based upon assurances that some charges will be dropped and even a promise that the defendant will receive a reduction in sentence. Additionally, some states have stricter rules than others, so it could also depend on the state.
So what does this all mean? In practice, courts do not strike down a confession as involuntary very often. Under some circumstances, promises (even if false) in exchange for a confession may not strike the confession. If so, the confession would be used against you in court. My advice? Get an attorney! If you are suspected of a crime, you should not speak with the police until you get an attorney. In court, an admission of guilt can be used against you, but a denial of guilt generally cannot.
Can an Officer Lie or Deceive for a Confession?
Without more evidence of overbearing the suspect's will, YES! Generally, police can lie to you to get a confession. They can tell lie claiming that somebody saw you commit the crime or that your DNA evidence is at the scene of the crime. This is not only permitted, but also used quite commonly.
What Should I do if I'm Suspected of a Crime?
Contact a criminal defense attorney immediately. You have a Constitutional privilege against compulsory (forced) self-incrimination. Even if you did not commit the crime, you could be tricked into admitting something you did not do. You may be confronted with information (even untrue information) that could lead you to say something by accident. Interrogation makes people nervous and people don't always say what they want to say. There is little to no benefit to speak with the police if you're a suspect of a crime. Contact an attorney instead of trying to defend yourself alone.
By Phillip Stamman
Note: Nothing I said here or in any other blog should be construed as legal advice, but statements of general legal principles. If you have a specific issue, you should contact a criminal defense attorney.
Also, do you have a general legal question that you want answered? Like Us on Facebook here, post your question and I may blog about it!