Is a Confess to a Crime Alone Enough to Convict a Defendant?
When an individual is arrested for committing a crime, he/she is usually brought to a nearby police station for questioning. Unfortunately for the arrestee, the procedure used by law enforcement for questioning a suspect is extremely one-sided. In an attempt to ascertain the events which led to the crime, law enforcement will intimidate, harass, and pressure the arrestee into making a confession. While these actions are completely legal, confessions are sometimes coerced.
Retaining the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney can be crucial to having a coerced confession thrown out at trial. However, even if a judge rules that the confession can be introduced at trial, a legal principle known as corpus delicti is still applicable, which prevents the prosecution from relying exclusively on the confession of the arrestee for conviction, and requires the state to also introduce evidence linking the arrestee with the crime.
Recently, ostensibly in an effort to protect victims of human trafficking, the California Assembly introduced a bill that would allow an individual to report the occurrence of certain crimes, and be granted immunity from arrest, including sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, robbery, assault, kidnapping, threats, blackmail, extortion, and burglary. A discussion of confessions, and when they cannot be used at trial, will follow below.
What is a Coerced Confession?
In California, all criminal defendants have the right to not be required to be a witness against themselves. In other words, no criminal defendant is required to provide the prosecution with evidence to convict him/her, such as being forced to confess to a crime.
Rather, the prosecution must prove the defendant committed the crime through other evidence. It should be noted that this right concerns the defendant being forced to confess to a crime; there is nothing against the defendant voluntarily confessing to committing a crime.
How can a Confession be Thrown Out?
The issue thus becomes – what is and what is not a voluntary confession? The standard for an involuntary confession is whether law enforcement used tactics that undermined the suspect’s ability to exercise his/her own free will. This is a high standard and a difficult one for a defendant to meet without effective assistance of counsel. The key to establishing an involuntary confession is showing that some sort of improper interrogation tactic overcame the arrestee’s free will.
Evidence that shows an obvious overcoming of the arrestee’s free will includes torture or depriving the arrestee of food and/or water for an extended period of time. Other, less obvious, means which can be used to overcome an arrestee’s free will typically require an inquiry into the circumstances involving the confession.
For example, courts will look at the following factors to ascertain whether an arrestee’s free will was compromised:
- Whether law enforcement read the Miranda warnings to the arrestee prior to his/her arrest;
- The location of the questioning (a police station is typically considered more intimidating than at the scene of the crime);
- The length of the interrogation (the longer the interrogation, the more coercive it will be considered);
- Whether the arrestee requested an attorney, and, if so, whether law enforcement honored the request;
- Whether the arrestee decided to remain silent, and, if so, whether law enforcement respected that decision;
- Who initiated the conversation (a defendant who freely and voluntarily interacts with law enforcement may not be able to show coercion); and
- The arrestee’s age, level of maturity, mental/physical health, and experience with the criminal justice system.
As is clear, evidence other than putting pressure on the arrestee must be shown for a judge to rule a confession to be coerced. Speaking with an experienced criminal defense attorney will help to ensure that this evidence is brought to the judge.
Let Your Lawyer Do The Talking
If you have been arrested on suspicion of committing a crime, contact the criminal defense attorneys at Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. It is important that you resist every attempt to confess to any crime.
The attorneys at our office have years of experience in criminal defense law, including an understanding of your individual rights and responsibilities. If you inadvertently, or under coercion, confessed to committing a crime, we will do our best to mitigate the situation.
The Los Angeles attorneys here are available 24/7 to take your call. Do not wait, contact us today for a case analysis.