Does it matter whether a statement is voluntary?
What’s so wrong about an involuntary statement? And why should courts suppress them under the voluntariness doctrine?
“Tell me what I want to hear, so we can move forward.”
How reliable is information under torture? And will the torture victim say whatever she thinks the torturer wants to hear? Will he say anything to make it stop. And will he say anything “to move forward?”
Laws concerning involuntary statements go back to ancient Rome.
And American common law, comes from British common law; which in turn came from Roman common law. Further, Roman law had even older predecessors, including the laws of ancient Athens, Macedonia and Greece.
That’s about as common as law gets. So today, in Minnesota, the law remains. And involuntary statements are still unreliable and inadmissible in a trial.
As often with the Common Law, Minnesota Statutes partially encode voluntariness law.
Voluntariness vs. Miranda
Compared to Miranda: First , let’s compare voluntariness with the more recent development of Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The Miranda rights case stands for two things.
- A defendant’s answers to police questioning in custody are inadmissible unless police inform her of her rights to an attorney and silence.
- And if the accused waived these rights, that the accused not only understood the rights, but also any waiver was voluntary.
So a defense attorney can ask a court to suppress a statement police get in violation of Miranda.
But the voluntariness of a confession is a separate issue from the Miranda issue. Today we hear more about the Miranda warning. And most learn about Miranda from movies and television. This, thanks to pop culture mentions of the 1966 case.
But voluntariness law is more powerful than Miranda, with its ancient roots in the laws of humans. So humans have long known that an involuntary statement is unreliable.
The key differences between the two:
|Miranda||Deter police misconduct||Exclusionary Rule|
|Voluntariness||Reliability (Truth)||Complete Suppression|
Who has the burden of proving voluntariness?
The state has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant confessed voluntarily.
What is an involuntary statement?
“A confession is not voluntary if the actions of the police, combined with the circumstances, are so coercive and intimidating that the defendant is unable to make a free-will decision. The actions of police need not be threats or deliberate intimidation to be coercive.”M.A.K., 667 N.W.2d 467 (Minn. App. 2003)
So, an inculpatory statement is only admissible if given voluntarily. See Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278 (1936); State v. Biron, 266 Minn. 272, 123 N.W.2d 392 (Minn. 1963).
We cannot trust an involuntary statement to be accurate or true.
Totality of Circumstances
To determine if a statement was voluntary, the court considers the totality of the relevant circumstances. And this includes factors such as the defendant’s:
- experience, and
- ability to comprehend.
Police must not extract a confession by threats or obtain one via direct or implicit promises. Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1 (1964); Bram v. United States, 168 U.S. 532 (1897).
From the Defendant’s Point-of-View: The court determines the confession’s voluntariness by the defendant’s state of mind at the time.
So the court reviews the facts surrounding the confession, to determine how the defendant responded to these circumstances. And it decides whether the confession should then be found involuntary. See Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 603 (1961).
Common Law — “Cannot Be Given in Evidence.” Minn. Stat. §634.03 requires that a court suppress an involuntary statement, for all purposes, including impeachment at trial.
Minn. Stat. §634.03 titled “Confession, inadmissible when,” codifies the common law going back thousands of years. So this common law predates constitutional law. And it continues today. It provides:
“A confession of the defendant shall not be sufficient to warrant conviction without evidence that the offense charged has been committed; nor can it be given in evidence against the defendant whether made in the course of judicial proceedings or to a private person, when made under the influence of fear produced by threats.”
Under the law and this statute, the involuntary statement cannot be used for any purpose, even impeachment.
The common law, from ancient times, and Constitutional law limiting confessions, recognizes that involuntary confessions are unreliable. Even where corroboration exists for involuntary confessions, courts have suppressed them. And this reduces the general evil of allowing involuntary confessions (general deterrence). Moreover, it reduces the systemic risk of false confessions.
No “in custody” requirement: involuntary statements
Custody status does not matter. And unlike Miranda cases, it makes no difference whether the defendant was “in custody.”
No “state actor” requirement: involuntary statements
Also unlike Miranda, we do not need “state action” for application of this common law rule. And its purpose is not to deter police misconduct. Rather, its historic purpose is to improve reliability of verdicts, by excluding involuntary statements.
Your Criminal Lawyer
So if the prosecutor has your involuntary statement, what can you do? Alert your criminal defense attorney. And your criminal lawyer can look at the facts, and develop a pretrial motion to suppress the involuntary statements.
And the judge will hear the motion at the Contested Omnibus Hearing. So, if she agrees with your lawyer, she’ll completely suppress the involuntary statement. Then, the prosecutor won’t be able to use it at trial, or for any purpose.
Minnesota Criminal Lawyer Thomas C. Gallagher‘s three decades experience suppressing involuntary confessions could help you.
And his peers consider Attorney Gallagher an expert. In fact, Thomas Gallagher teaches Continuing Legal Education classes on confessions law to police officers, judges and other lawyers.
You deserve the best defense. So, call Minnesota Defense Attorney Thomas Gallagher about your case.