A “coerced” confession usually means it was an involuntary confession resulting from overzealous federal law enforcement agents rather than someone's free will that comes from improper police conduct rather than a suspect's free will. In other words, the confession resulted from persuasion, duress, pressure, aggression, and even lying by federal agents.
Sometimes, interrogation techniques include physical abuse and psychological abuse. Coerced and false confessions have resulted in many suspects being charged with crimes they did not commit.
Both state and federal courts will typically exclude evidence from confessions that were not voluntary, based on the due process clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. Further, there is a Fifth Amendment constitutional right against self-incrimination and a Sixth Amendment constitutional right to legal counsel.
There are different types of false confessions from coercion, including voluntary false confessions, persuaded false confessions, and compliant false confessions.
While federal law gives you the right not to incriminate yourself, and a coerced or false confession should not be admissible as evidence, they are not uncommon. Many innocent people have been convicted based on bogus confessions.
A suspect might confess to a crime they did not commit because they were mentally worn down after a lengthy interrogation or persuaded after law enforcement lied to them. Perhaps they were offered a favorable plea bargain if they admitted to the crime.
As noted, the United States Constitution protects citizens from being compelled to testify against themselves when charged with a crime. Still, false and coerced confessions sometimes occur in the federal criminal justice system. Let's review further below.
What Are the Federal Protections?
As noted, the United States Constitution protects citizens from being forced to incriminate themselves, including confessing under duress. Simply put, for a confession to be legally admissible in court, it has to be made voluntarily.
For example, Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
In other words, a citizen cannot be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself without due process of law.
This legal right also applies to interrogations by federal agents, police, and prosecutors outside the courtroom and addresses coerced or false confessions under duress. While they are similar, there is a difference between a false and a coerced confession.
What Is a False Confession?
A “false confession” means someone admitted guilt to a crime they did not commit, and they occur for different reasons, such as the following:
- Mental illness or disability;
- Psychological abuse by the interrogator;
- Physical abuse or threats of abuse;
- To end a lengthy interrogation;
- To cover up another person's involvement;
- Overzealous tactics or lying by law enforcement;
- To get a favorable plea bargain when they believe they can't get a fair trial.
What Is a Coerced Confession?
A coerced confession is an admission to a crime because of improper pressure or duress from law enforcement, whether the confession is not valid or true.
Often coercion occurs through mental manipulation, such as lying to a suspect that they will be released from custody if they just confess to the crime. Coerced confessions can be:
Sometimes, the coercion techniques are so effective that the suspect might become convinced they committed the crime when they did not. A persuaded false confession can occur when a suspect starts to doubt their memory. They are more likely to occur under the following circumstances:
- During poorly conducted law enforcement interrogations, or
- When interrogators use overzealous and improper techniques.
Sometimes, a suspect confesses because they only want to end a stressful interrogation. Perhaps they believed their confession would result in getting released from police custody or lesser charges with lighter penalties.
Voluntary false confessions are typically the result of a mental illness or disorder. This has occurred in situations where someone believes they will become famous if they confess to the crime. In other cases, they falsely confess to protect another person.
What are the Interrogation Techniques?
Many different types of highly questionable interrogation techniques have led to false or coerced confessions, such as the following:
- Use of leading questions;
- Showing fake sympathy and compassion;
- Pretending to be a friend and ally;
- Making false promises;
- Extremely long interrogation without a break;
- Physical coercion;
- Mental abuse;
- Threats of violence;
- Lying about the evidence;
- Interrogation of intoxicated suspects.
Are Coerced Confessions Admissible in a Court of Law?
As noted, coerced or false confessions are considered inadmissible in a court of law, even when the confession was true.
Coerced confessions violate your rights because you can't be compelled to testify against yourself. Further, coercive interrogation tactics deny due process under the law.
You must receive fair treatment throughout the criminal justice process, including that only reliable evidence can be used against you at trial.
If you believe you are the victim of making a false or coerced confession, our federal criminal defense lawyers can help you. If you are a suspect being interrogated by police or federal agents, you should exercise your Miranda rights and not make incriminating statements.
If you have made an involuntary confession, perhaps we can file a motion to suppress to exclude it from evidence.
If law enforcement used unlawful coercive techniques during questioning, contact our law firm to review the details. We offer a free case evaluation. The Hedding Law Firm has offices in Los Angeles, California.