Earlier this week, we began a discussion about a recent ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The case concerned a young man who was convicted of the sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl in a 2007 incident. On appeal, the defendant argued that police used deception and coercion in order to get him to confess to the crime.
During a voluntary interview in which the suspect was not read his Miranda rights, law enforcement officers overstated the evidence against the young man and also lied to him by telling him that he would be unable to call an attorney from jail that day if they arrested him. Despite law enforcement's use of these and other tactics, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the man's conviction by a vote of 7 to 1.
Writing for the majority, Justice Patrick Crooks explained that "Using deception in an interrogation is common and generally acceptable. Balanced against (the defendant's) characteristics, police conduct was not so coercive that it overcame (the defendant's) ability to resist."
Only Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson offered a dissenting opinion. She argued that the confession was involuntary and the product of police coercion. This is because the defendant's young age and inexperience made him "susceptible to police coercion."
Police also lied to him about his legal rights by telling him that if he didn't tell the "true story," he would be spending the night in jail and would be unable to call an attorney. In short, they told him he wouldn't have the right to call an attorney unless he confessed.
As the Chief Justice points out, this is patently false. She wrote: "Tipping the scale for me here is that in addition to the deceptive interrogation techniques and the defendant's personal vulnerabilities, the law enforcement officers misinformed the defendant of his constitutional right to call an attorney."
As unjust as the Supreme Court's ruling may have been, this case highlights an important point for anyone accused or suspected of a crime: it is important to seek the help of a qualified criminal defense attorney immediately. If possible, suspects should seek counsel before ever agreeing to speak to police.
Source: State Bar of Wisconsin, "In Criminal Case, Supreme Court Upholds Confession Despite Alleged Police Coercion," Joe Forward, Jan. 9, 2013