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Police Confessions: True or False?

This topic appealed to me immediately, as I have been interested in this subject for some time. Police interrogations are an interesting step of the legal process, as their purpose is to get citizens who are suspected of committing a crime to confess. The issue at hand is that not all who are suspected of committing a crime have committed said crime.

During police interrogations, the government is pitted against its own citizens, and the primary objective is often not to uncover the truth, but to extract a confession, or at least create inconsistencies in their story so that the Prosecution has as much as they can to work with. Although there are measures in place to safeguard citizens from such practices, these measures are often frowned upon by society, making it less than likely for the average person to utilize them effectively.

The protections, of course, include invoking their 5th amendment right to remain silent, to obtain representation from an attorney, that police are restricted to what they are allowed to do in order to obtain a confession, and that confessions made without the right conditions are inadmissible, as seen in 18 U.S. Code § 3501.

Some potential problems arise from this, as, while anyone arrested in the US has these rights (to remain silent, to an attorney), they must invoke them to take advantage of them, and society has taken it upon itself to put a negative spin on invoking these rights. Conversations over hiring a lawyer or remaining silent always end up with some argument that boils down to “not cooperating with the police is what guilty people do. An innocent person should cooperate.”

This can be especially problematic for juveniles, who may be more susceptible to coercion and may not fully understand the consequences of their actions. According to the Innocence Project, the “National Registry of Exonerations shows that in the last 25 years, 38% of exonerations for crimes allegedly committed by youth under 18 years of age involved false confessions, compared with 11% for adults.” This makes sense, as juveniles generally have less of an understanding of the consequences of their actions.

This is dangerous, as again, the police do not question to get to the truth, they question to gather evidence and make it easier to get a conviction later down the line. Even where the culture and laws are now, it was still worse in the 60s

Before Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), the police were not required to notify people of their rights, which would make false confessions much more frequent.

Miranda confessed to his crimes without being notified of his rights. His confession letter stated that confessed with a line that stated he was aware of his rights. Because he did not understand his 6th amendment rights when he confessed, he was ultimately found guilty exclusively based off of an unconstitutional confession.

It is important to note for this paper that Miranda was later found guilty of committing the crimes he was originally charged for in a retrial, so while this does provide protection against false confessions, Miranda’s confession was true.

Miranda changed how arrests were conducted, but simply being aware of rights is not enough in some cases. False confessions are a problem, and the culture of the interrogation room is to blame. How do we as a society fix this, then?

The solution, in my opinion, is to ban the use of lying as a police interrogation technique, at the very least to minors.

Lying in an interrogation for the sole purpose of garnering a confession, using deception, is a practice that should not exist in America, but does. American police can lie and deceive a suspect to get them to confess. This does not sit right with me. How can anything built on a foundation of lies be taken as truth?

The power imbalance between the government and its citizens is evident in these situations, as the government has the resources and authority to pressure individuals into confessing, regardless of their guilt or innocence, or even what the evidence suggests.

Even if there was an argument to be made against lying in interrogation rooms to adults, there is little to gain and much to lose from allowing the police to lie to minors, as they are more likely to give a false confession based off these false pretenses.

An example of this can be found in Patrick v. City of Chi., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 174325, 2014, where a minor was coerced into confessing to a crime he did not commit after being interrogated for fifteen hours. In this case, the police promised that if the boy just confessed, he could go home. The craziest part of this story is that it would have been impossible for this boy to have committed the crime because he was incarcerated at the time that the crime was committed. It still took decades for him to be exonerated because that is how much weight confessions are given, provably false or not.

Preventing the police from lying to minors already exists in a few states, like Illinois, New York, and Oregon, and should good results come from these states, surely more will follow.

It is my opinion that most police confessions are true, but even on the margins, it is important that the rights of the incarcerated are protected. At the very least, it is important that the rights of minors are protected so that it is assured that they fully understand the implications of confessions.

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