When the police interrogate a person who is suspected of a crime, they are trying to obtain evidence and, if possible, a confession. In order for a confession to be admissible in court, it must be made voluntarily, however, and the tactics that police often use when interrogating suspects may call into question whether a confession was voluntary or not. As a result, criminal defendants who have provided confessions while being questioned by police often move to have their confession excluded from evidence based upon the conduct of law enforcement at the time they made their confession.
State v. John Finley
Earlier this summer, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals determined that a mentally disabled man’s confession was voluntary, even when he was subjected to intense pressure from the police and there was evidence that he was unable to understand their line of questioning.
In State v. Finley, two police officers, one in a police uniform and one in plainclothes, went to Finley’s apartment after reports that he had inappropriately touched his niece. According to testimony from the officers, Finely and his mother, with whom he shared the apartment, seemed to be aware of the allegations against him. Finley sat down with the officers at the kitchen table and expressed that he was not feeling well, and declined medical assistance when offered by the officers.
During their conversation, Finley was told that he was not under arrest and that he could have the officers leave at any time. During his interview, Finley admitted to putting a finger into his niece’s vagina for 5 or 10 seconds.
According to testimony from Finley’s Aunt, he has the mental capacity of an 11 or 12-year-old and is “easily manipulated and intimidated.” In addition, a doctor that had performed a psychological evaluation on Finley testified that he has an IQ of 72, and that 97 percent of the population has a higher IQ than him. The doctor also testified that Finely had problems with verbal comprehension, working memory, and processing speed.
At trial, Finley moved to suppress his confession on the ground that it was not made voluntarily. The circuit court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision.
Did the Court Get it Wrong?
At Hogan & Eickhoff, we believe the court decided this case incorrectly. It is hard to overstate how intimidating it can be when the police question you, especially for a person who has limited mental capacity. As stated in the dissent, “‘the admissibility of a confession turns as much on whether the techniques for extracting the statements, as applied to this suspect, are compatible with a system that presumes innocence and assures that a conviction will not be secured by inquisitorial means as on whether the defendant’s will was in fact overborne.”
The dissent argues that the majority failed to fully address techniques used by the officers when interviewing Finely. One of the officers testified that he was not going to interview Finley for the truth, but rather to obtain a confession. In addition, the same officer had decided that he was going to arrest Finley, but waiting to put him into custody as a way of getting a statement before reading him his rights as required by Miranda.
Among other issues raised by the dissent is that the majority failed to consider that Finely’s physical condition at the time of the interview could impact the voluntariness of his statements and also failed to give sufficient consideration to the effect of his mental limitations.
Do Not Talk to the Police without a Lawyer Present
As a general rule, you should not talk to the police without an attorney present, even if you do not believe you are a suspect. It’s important to remember that if the police are talking to you, there is always a chance that you could say or do something that could implicate you in criminal activity. In addition, the police are allowed to lie to you and use techniques that are intended to get you inadvertently admit to wrongdoing. Fortunately, when you are represented by an attorney, he or she can protect your rights and make sure that you do not say anything that could hurt your case or result in criminal liability.
In the event that you have made already made a confession while under police interrogation, all is not necessarily lost. An attorney may be able to identify issues with the way the police conducted the interrogation that could call into question whether your confession was, in fact, voluntary. Some of the factors that courts consider when determining whether a confession was voluntarily made include:
- Whether police used force or the threat of force during the interrogation
- Psychological threats
- The general conduct of the police during the interrogation
- The duration of the interrogation
- The location the interrogation took place
- The suspect’s mental condition
Whether a confession was made voluntarily is a complicated legal question. For this reason, if you’ve made a confession while talking to the police, it’s always a good idea to discuss your case with a lawyer. In some cases, it may be possible to have the confession thrown out, which can significantly improve your chances of resolving your case favorably.
Call Hogan Eickhoff to Retain an Appleton Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If you have been accused of a crime or are under investigation by law enforcement, it is important that you protect your rights by retaining an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. The assistance of an attorney can ensure that the police do not violate your rights and, if they do, that any evidence they gathered illegally is suppressed.
At Hogan Eickhoff, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of people who have been accused of crimes and provide solution-oriented legal counsel and representation in a non-judgmental and supportive environment. To schedule a free case evaluation with a criminal defense attorney in Appleton, call our office today at (920) 450-9800 or contact us online.