Appellate Court Ruling Considers Whether Confession Was “Voluntary,” Reviews Implications for Defendant’s Fourth Amendment Rights

647478939_938710c425_oThe Bill of Rights provides several critically important protections in criminal cases. The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures prohibits the arrest of a person without, at a minimum, probable cause. The Fifth Amendment states that a person may not “be compelled…to be a witness against himself,” which is the major component of the “right to remain silent” in criminal cases. These protections all come into play when a person confesses to a crime during a police interrogation. An appellate court in Illinois issued a ruling late last year that rebuked the state’s claim of a “voluntary” confession. Illinois v. Jackson, 2014 IL App (3d) 120239. The ruling highlighted the dangers presented when the government does not respect the protections of the Bill of Rights during an investigation. Although this case is from Illinois, it draws on U.S. Supreme Court precedent that affects Texas as well.

The case involved charges of first-degree murder for a fatal shooting in August 2009. Police arrested the defendant without a warrant in March 2010. An eyewitness to the shooting had reportedly told the police on several occasions that, while he was acquainted with the defendant, he did not know the shooter. He testified that “the officers would not accept this explanation” and, during an interrogation in late February 2010, kept showing him the defendant’s photo. Id. at 6. Eventually, he told the officers that the photo “resembled” the person he saw pull the gun. Id. This apparently formed the entire basis for the defendant’s arrest about a week later, since the police found no other evidence linking the defendant to the scene of the crime.

The defendant did not expressly state that he wanted a lawyer or that he was invoking his right to remain silent. He testified that he began answering the officers’ questions because he “got tired of them nagging.” Id. at 5. The court’s order includes a portion of the transcript of the police interrogation in which a detective tries to convince the defendant, who is African-American, to confess by telling him that he will not be able to get a fair jury trial because of his race, and because of prejudices harbored by not only the jurors but the judge. He even claims that this prejudice will “negate the credibility of any witnesses he might call.” Id. at 38.

The trial court denied a motion to quash the arrest and suppress the evidence obtained during the interrogation, finding the eyewitness’ identification credible. After a jury convicted the defendant, the court sentenced him to 65 years’ imprisonment. He appealed the denial of his motion and the exclusion of any argument questioning whether his confession was voluntary.

The appellate court ruled for the defendant, with one dissent. It ruled that the arrest was illegal for lack of probable cause, citing precedent requiring the suppression of evidence obtained from an illegal arrest “absent significant intervening circumstances to purge the taint of the illegal arrest.” Id. at 28, referencing Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 219 (1979).

In a special concurrence, one justice also harshly criticized the “coercive questioning focused primarily on defendant’s race” and a prejudiced legal system. Id. at 25. She noted the importance of carefully analyzing whether a confession was truly voluntary, since such a finding “reduces, as a practical matter, the obligation to carefully evaluate its reliability.” Id. at 38.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

Board-certified criminal defense lawyer Michael J. Brown fights for the rights of west Texas defendants charged with white-collar and drug offenses under state and federal law. Contact us today online or at (432) 687-5157 to schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced and skilled criminal justice advocate.

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Photo credit: Simon Adriaensen [CC BY-ND 2.0], via Flickr.