Monday, October 24, 2011

Police: "We know you did it and we can prove it!"

In the eyes of the government, a confession is the strongest form of evidence that can be brought against an accused.  Prosecutors, detectives and police officers avidly seek confessions to effectively prove and win cases.  As you might imagine, a confession has a compelling influence on jurors.  So much so, that jurors are more likely to convict on the basis of a confession than any other type of evidence, including eyewitness identification.  From the jurors' perspective, I can see why they might place so much weight on a confession.  For example a juror might say to themself, "If the Defendant said he did it, why shouldn't we believe him?".  Similarly, another juror might say, "Why would anyone admit to something they didn't do?"   While those are reasonable questions, very few people (including lawyers) realize the extent to which the government can lie, deceive and manipulate evidence during the course of an interrogation of an accused in an effort to obtain a confession.

Courts in the U.S. have, for the most part, approved the following types of deceptive techniques or lies by  law enforecement during the interrogation process:

1) Lying to the accused by stating that accused's vehicle was spotted at the crime scene, when it was not;

2)Telling the accused that the victim's hair, blood, etc. was found in the accused's vehicle, when it was not;

3) Deceiving the accused by telling them that the murder weapon has been discovered, when it has not;

4) Lying to the accused by stating that the victim is still alive, when in fact, they are dead;

5) Telling the accused that their fingerprints were found at the crime scene, when they were not; and

6) Informing the accused that a reliable witness has identified them as the suspect, when in fact, no such witness exists.

Now that you know the types of coercive techniques that the government can use during an interrogation, the question to be asked is, "Do these types of techniques result in false confessions ( a confession where the accused admits to something they didn't do)?"  I don't believe that false confessions are the norm,  but to think that false confessions never happen - would be naive.  Being interrogated by the police is a highly stressful experience, especially when you consider the factors involved: confinement, isolation, prolonged questioning and aggressive or angry detectives.   Add to the mix, deceipt and trickery, and I think there is a real recipe for disaster, ie. some individuals will admit to acts they did not commit to avoid further interrogation. 

Despite the police's questionable interrogation tactics, the accused, whether they know it or not, possess the ability to stop an interrogation at any time.  All the accused has to say is, "I'm not saying anything until I talk to a lawyer."  Under the US Constitution, the police are forbidden from continuing the interrogation until the accused has a lawyer present representing the accused's interest.  If the police continue the interrogation after a request for a lawyer has been made, than the police are violating the accused's constitutional rights and any confession or evidence obtained after that point would be inadmissible in Court.

If you ever find yourself in the uneviable position of being interrogated by the police, remember that simple phrase, "I'm not saying anything until I talk to a lawyer."   Don't think you can outsmart the police, the stakes are too high.  Instead, get a lawyer that will force the police to substantiate their claims.  A good lawyer will level the playing field.

After all, isn't that how the justice system is supposed to work -- a level playing field.

Dustin T. Nichols, Esq.
Law Office of Dustin T. Nichols, PLLC
619 E. King St., Suite A
King, NC 27021