False confessions undeniably lead to the convictions of innocent suspects. Despite this harsh reality, we now have an appellate court decision reaffirming the principle that law enforcement can be trusted to use deception in order to obtain a suspects confession. However, San Diego Criminal lawyers remember well the lessons derived from the Richard Tuite case. Tuite was convicted in the stabbing death of 12-years old Stephanie Crowe while she lay asleep in bed. Stephanie’s brother and his two friends were initially charged with the killing after aggressive interrogation lead to incriminating statements. The boys were inconveniently innocent. Their statements were later thrown out by the court after an analysis of law enforcement interrogation techniques, including the infamous use of Detective McDonough’s ”lie detector machine.” Law enforcement lied to the boys about the validity of the machine and the results in order to break down their free-will and obtain a statement. Tuite, who was questioned in the killing right from the beginning, was dismissed as a suspect as the cops focused on the boys. The lies were only part of the problem- but a major problem – with the reliability of the statements. The boys were kept from their parents, interrogated for hours non-stop, and every effort was made to undermine their wishes to cease the interview.
Recently in the case of People v. Mays a California appellate court found that incriminating statements made by a criminal defendant were voluntary and admissible even considering that the police lied in obtaining the statement by showing the defendant falsified results of a police conducted polygraph test. Specifically, the detectives were attempting to establish that a suspect was at the scene of the crime. “[T]he police placed on [the suspects] body patches connected to wires, pretended to administer a lie detector test, fabricated written test results, showed defendant the fake results, and told him the results showed he failed the test. The detective suggested that perhaps defendant failed because he was present during the crime and felt some guilt about that. Defendant then admitted he was present at the shooting.” The trial court permitted evidence of this admission, and on appeal the court found “no grounds for reversal.”
Generally, when a confession is coerced by police actions, it is considered an involuntary statement and is therefore inadmissible in court. But, can the police lie to a suspect and engage in trickery without their action being considered coercion? Many courts have held that police trickery that occurs in the process of a criminal interrogation does not, by itself, render a confession involuntary. While the extent of the deception employed by the police in the Mays case is abnormal, it is not uncommon for the police to lie to a suspect in an attempt to further an investigation. Mays is simply another cautionary example of how far the police are willing and permitted to push the envelope. A good criminal attorney can possibly demonstrate how lies helped render a confession involntary.
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