Under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, no American citizen can be forced to testify against themselves (what is commonly referred to as the right to remain silent). In practical terms, this means that if someone is forced to give a confession against their will, that confession can be deemed inadmissible in court. But what exactly can make a confession involuntary, legally speaking?
- Threatening violence against the suspect
- A commonly seen tactic in involuntary confessions is threats of violence from police officers. While many police know better than to use violence directly to extract a confession from someone, they will sometimes use the threat of that violence to convince people to confess. This could include verbal threats to severely injure someone, or putting a gun to someone’s head, just as an example.
- Committing violence against the suspect
- Not every police officer looking to coerce an involuntary confession out of someone will stop with mere threats, however. Some law enforcement will commit actual harm in the pursuit of a confession, punching, kicking, or choking suspects that refuse to comply. In more extreme cases, this may escalate to outright torture, which can result in severe harm to anyone who experiences it.
- Depriving a suspect of food or water
- Rather than using direct violence, some police officers will extract a confession using less overtly harmful methods. They will detain a suspect, then refuse to give them food, water, or other essentials unless they give a confession. This can quickly lead to serious harm, especially to people with certain medical conditions, and police count on suspects giving an involuntary confession to save themselves from dehydration or starvation.
- Preventing a suspect from going to the bathroom
- Another variation of this trick is stopping a suspect from using the bathroom, coercing an involuntary confession in exchange for allowing them to relieve themselves. While this sounds silly, it may take only an hour or two for the need to urinate or defecate to become seriously urgent. The police understand this, and will use it as a bargaining chip to extract a confession.
- Promising leniency against the suspect
- Not all coercion tactics against suspects are overtly hostile. Some, in fact, may come off as kind, with the police promising leniency in exchange for a confession. However, the police have no authority to promise a lighter sentence or freedom in exchange for a confession, and it is illegal for them to do so. Unlike other forms of coercion, it can be difficult to prove without someone else there to back you up, such as a criminal defense attorney who can represent you in court.
If you or someone you know has been arrested for a criminal offense, you will need legal counsel to help you preserve your rights and work to get the best possible outcome for your matter. A New York criminal defense lawyer, who is experienced in handling criminal cases of all sorts, can advise you of your legal rights and will fight for your best interests in court. If you or your loved one has been arrested, contact the Suffolk County criminal defense attorneys at McGuire, Peláez and Bennett at (631) 348-1702.