Lawyers and others with criminal law experience

What are some of the “interesting” reasons you have heard or experienced that has caused/allowed a signed confession to be thrown out as evidence?

IANAL, but my impression is that the sole reason for throwing out a signed confession (or an unsigned confession, or an oral or videotaped confession), or any other sort of confession or culpatory evidence, is that it was not “voluntarily obtained” … i.e., that the suspect did not make the confession in full knowledge of his rights which was clearly evident from the surrounding circumstances. Such a confession is likely to have been obtained in circumstances which violate the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition of compulsory self-incrimination.

There may well be other grounds, as for example a hearsay statement of a confession made to a third party who testifies about it that violates the rather arcane rules on when hearsay is admissible. But my impression is that all or most such cases are thrown out on what we might call “Miranda grounds.”

This would presume a defendant who was so stupid as to not be represented by a lawyer. A couple decades ago, I admit that I had a defense attorney figuratively whack me upside the head for ignoring my legal rights. I try to never make the same mistake twice. Half a decade ago, some cops in the Western US persuaded the local dicks to contact me about an e-mail I allegedly sent. The local dicks showed up at my door wearing nice suits and asking questions. My response was “Based on the advice of legal counsel, I choose to make no statement. Do you gentlemen have a warrant for my arrest, or a search warrant signed by a judge to search these premises?” Detectives: “Umm…no.” Me: “In that case, I wish you gentlemen a fond goodbye.” (rfgdxm then turns around, slams door in the face of the dicks, and goes about his business.) Basically, the Fifth Amendment says that a citizen when confronted by cops can just refuse to say anything to them, and just walk away absent any legal grounds for an arrest. My father fought in the second world war after taking an oath to defend the US Constitution. In honor of him, I respect and am willing to defend these principles. (OK, tomorrow in this country is Indepedence Day. Please excuse me for thinking the Constitution of this land actually means something.)

No. To paraphrase Polycarp, it presumes a confession obtained in violation of a defendant’s constitutional rights as, for example, when a defendant requests an attorney yet law enforcement continues to question said defendant. See, for example, this recent news article that speculates that a recently arrested alleged child molester’s confession may be tainted (take it with a pound of salt, of course, because there are too few facts to analyze):

There, it is likely that the defense attorneys will argue that later recitations of Miranda rights will not cure the defect, because once the defendant asks for a lawyer, only with the lawyer’s presence can Miranda rights be waived.

I hestitate to post this, because it is anecdotal rather than factual (at least, I can’t find a citation to back it up), but in law school, in my Constitutional Criminal Procedure class, our professor told us about one such confession that was thrown out. If I remember correctly, he said that one of the “news” shows (60 Minutes, 48 Hours, etc.) had run a program on it.

The defendant’s Miranda rights were read, and she waived her right to an attorney. The detectives questioned her, but to ensure that a court would not later listen to an argument that she asked for an attorney, they videotaped the entire interrogation. A fact that proved their undoing, because, sure enough, they got the defendant to confess to the crime. They did so, however, by inducing a psychotic state in the defendant, and implanting memories in her head, convincing her that although she had an alibi and no memory of committing the crimes, she had, in fact, done so. The court, on reviewing the videotape, tossed the confession.

I recall a woman confessing to committing some of the “Hillside Strangler” murders. Her confession was disallowed on the grounds that she was lying. She had apparently fallen in love with Kenneth Bianchi.

Generally because the court considers that the “confessions” have been signed under duress. This will particularly be the case if the accused has been questioned for lengthy periods etc. in violation of the rules relating to interrogations.