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Law Enforcement Officials Cannot Make False Promises and Representations to a Suspect in Custody In Order To Elicit a Confession

July 25, 2019

STELIOS STOUPAKIS reports on a recent decision from the Supreme Court of New Jersey concerning the standard the State has to meet regarding the elicitation of a defendant’s incriminating statement.

The Defendant, in this case, was brought into custody under suspicion of sexual assault.  The interrogation lasted for three hours.  Throughout the interrogation, two detectives repeatedly promised the suspect that if he would cooperate, he would not go to jail, they would help him seek counseling and he would be able to live freely and raise his daughter.  Ultimately, the suspect believed the detectives and confessed to the allegations.  He was arrested and criminally charged.  At pre-trial hearings, the trial court determined that the Defendant’s confession was voluntary, and as such, admissible.  Hence, the Defendant pled guilty to various offenses.  On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed and held that the State did not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the confession was voluntary. 

The Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division, finding that the detectives overbore the defendant’s will by false promises of leniency that assured counseling instead of incarceration.  The Court further stated that the false promises and false representations blatantly contradicted “Miranda” warnings.  In 1966, the United States Supreme Court established a safeguard to ensure that a suspect is protected from self-incrimination potentially due to the pressure of law enforcement’s undue influence.  This protection is commonly known as a suspect’s “Miranda” rights/warnings.  In the present case, the Supreme Court acknowledged that the aforementioned “Miranda” warnings were created so that a suspect is not compelled to self-incriminate when he otherwise would not do so freely and found that the State did not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the detectives’ false representations did not overbear the Defendant’s will and coerced him to confess.  The Court emphasized that “it is of critical importance that law enforcement officers use interrogation techniques that will elicit confessions by lawful means.”   

The Supreme Court recognized the strength that a defendant’s confession casts over a jury and concluded that law enforcement coerced the Defendant into an involuntary confession.  Hence, the Court vacated his guilty plea, suppressed his confession and remanded for proceedings consistent with the Court’s ruling.   

Please contact Stelios Stoupakis if you have any questions or need assistance in connection with this subject.