The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently said that coercive interrogations may violate the constitutional rights of suspects and preclude their “involuntary” statements from being introduced at trial, reported The Marshall Project. The nation’s judges have consistently allowed the police to undertake aggressive questioning of suspects, to exercise the “craftship” of deception and intimidation of the sort made famous in countless movies and television shows where the suspect “breaks” during police interrogation.
And they have done so by narrowing the definition of what constitutes police coercion. So the police during questioning can lie and falsely tell a suspectthat his friend (and co-defendant) has confessed to the crime, incriminating both of them. The cops can lie and falsely tell a suspect that his fingerprints or his DNA were recovered from the scene of the crime. They can even lie and falsely tell a suspect that they have satellite images that incriminate him. No court has ever held, as far I can tell, that police have a duty to tell a suspect the truth about the evidence they may or may not have against him.
But many courts have identified legal distinctions between police lies about facts — i.e. “your buddy just ratted you out” — and police lies about legal rights. So the police are not supposed to tell a suspect during interrogation that any incriminating statement he says won’t be used against him. Or that what he says will determine the nature and degree of the charges. A cop cannot promise to get a suspect a reduced charge or sentence, decisions that are not in police hands. If it seems murky, it is. Like so much else about criminal law and the Constitution the courts generally resolve these cases based on the intricate facts they present.
Nor have the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, come up with a bright-line test for how long an interrogation may go before it is considered unduly “coercive” under the Constitution. An interrogation surely would be ruled unlawful had the police not permitted the 18-year-old suspect to sleep, or eat, or go to the bathroom. And it surely would have been unconstitutional had he been physically assaulted or threatened with physical injury.
When a teenager under the age of 18 is threatened by the police with the death penalty — “fucking give you the needle” is how the cop put it — surely that cop knew or should have known that threat was hollow. The folks at the Exoneration Registry, who help track false confession cases, say they have counted at least 27 false confession cases across the country where suspects were threatened with the imposition of the death penalty.
In at least five of the cases tracked by the Registry the suspect was a juvenile at the time of the alleged murder. But in only one of those cases was the threat made after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the execution of juvenile killers in March 2005 in a decision Roper v. Simmons. The Supreme Court has yet to hear a case in which these sorts of police threats, made to teenagers already susceptible to false confessions, helped convict a suspect of murder.
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I have told my teenage son, remember 2 words if the cops ask you anything, Shut UP! Until I get a lawyer. No comments no nothing. No words.
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