Court ruling brings attention to coerced confessions

In 2007, a black man in Indiana was accused of shooting and killing a 28-year-old. According to the South Bend Tribune, during a three-hour interrogation, the man denied the crime. The detective then told the suspect that due to the racial makeup of the jury, it was possible that the man would not receive a fair trial. As a result, the man confessed to the murder.  The man then filed an appeal, which was brought to the attention of the state’s Supreme Court. After reviewing the evidence, the high court threw out the confession, stating that the detective violated the man’s right to equal access to justice.

Coerced confessions 

In some cases, law enforcement in Minnesota and elsewhere use methods that violate people’s rights in order to get them to say that they committed a crime. In such instances, these admissions of guilt are considered coerced confessions. According to Minnesota statute, a confession can be found inadmissible in a court of law when it is determined the confession was obtained by threats and fear.

A study conducted a few years ago revealed that the majority of people who are innocent of a crime will waive their right to be silent. According to The Jury Expert, there is an implied message from law enforcement that if the person is not guilty of the crime, then the person has nothing to worry about. However, subconsciously, people often view law enforcement in the same way they may have viewed their parents as a child. There is a level of intimidation that exists and, much in the same way that a child will admit fault when the child is innocent, the same person could be coerced into a false confession.

Coercion tactics

In 1994, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a ruling that led to mandated recording practices during interrogations. This has proven effective at exposing the tactics some law enforcement officers use to elicit a confession. Those tactics include the following:

  • Lying: telling suspects that their fingerprints are at the scene of a robbery when there are no fingerprints
  • Downplaying the seriousness of the crime and convincing the suspect that the consequences are minimal
  • Extremely lengthy interrogations that emotionally and physically drain a suspect
  • Using the person’s children or family members to manipulate a confession; telling the person that the person will lose visitation rights or make other subtle threats

A coerced confession infringes upon people’s rights to due process as outlined in the 14th Amendment. Combined with the self-incrimination protection outlined in the Fifth Amendment, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that a forced confession is inadmissible in court. People accused of crimes should consult with a criminal defense attorney to make sure their rights are protected.

He has won jury trial cases in misdemeanor and felony cases and in DWI’s and non-DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. He is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

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