Can a confession be used against you in court just because you waived Miranda rights?

“We have never abandoned this due process jurisprudence, and thus continue to exclude confessions that were obtained involuntarily.” Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 434 (2000)

Even if a suspect’s Miranda waiver was made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently, a court may find that the confession itself does not pass the due process voluntariness standard. Courts conduct a two-step voluntariness inquiry, asking first whether the police activity was objectively coercive and second whether that coercive behavior overbore the will of the accused.

A confession is involuntary if it is not “the product of a rational intellect and a free will.” (Mincey v. Arizona (1978) 437 U.S. 385, 398; see also Lynumn v. Illinois (1963) 372 U.S. 528, 534 [test is whether defendant’s “will was overborne at the time he confessed”].) The question is whether the police used force or psychological ploys which are so coercive that the tend to produce a statement that is involuntary, and therefore unreliable. (People v. Ray (1996) 13 Cal.4th 313, 340.) Coercive police conduct is a necessary predicate to a finding of involuntariness. (Colorado v. Connelly (1986) 479 U.S. 157, 167.) The test is, therefore, primarily objective. Subjective factors will be considered in determining whether a suspect’s will was overborne, but only if police coercion is present. Whether a statement is involuntary depends upon the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation. (People v. Neal (2003) 31 Cal.4th 63, 79.) If a confession is involuntary, is must be totally suppressed. It is inadmissible under any circumstances, even if the defendant testifies. (People v. Neal, supra, 31 Cal.4th at p. 78.)

Ultimately, the voluntariness “determination ‘depend[s] upon a weighing of the circumstances of pressure against the power of resistance of the person confessing.’” Dickerson, 530 U.S. at 434 (quoting Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 185 (1953), overruled in part on other grounds by Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964)) (alteration in original).

In evaluating the voluntariness of a confession under the totality of the circumstances, we are not trying to determine whether the suspect told the truth when he confessed. “[C]onvictions following the admission into evidence of confessions which are involuntary, i.e., the product of coercion, either physical or psychological,” are tenuous not simply “because such confessions are unlikely to be true.” Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 540–41 (1961). “As important as it is that persons who have committed crimes be convicted, there are considerations which transcend the question of guilt or innocence.” Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 206 (1960). We exclude coerced confessions “because the methods used to extract them offend an underlying principle in the enforcement of our criminal law.”

The prohibition on the coercion of confessions “also turns on the deep-rooted feeling that the police must obey the law while enforcing the law; that in the end life and liberty can be as much endangered from illegal methods used to convict those thought to be criminals as from the actual criminals themselves.” Spano v. New York, 360 U.S. 315, 320–21 (1959).

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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