LAW ENFORCEMENT CANNOT USE A PROMISE OF LENIENT TREATMENT WHEN TRYING TO GET YOU TO TALK
Oct. 3, 2009
It is standard law enforcement procedure to tell a suspect being questioning that it is better to tell the truth (confess). However, if law enforcement says that by confessing the suspect will get a reduced charge or lesser punishment, then they step over the line and any “confession” made after that is inadmissible. In STATE OF IOWA v. MATTHEW DELMAR PIES, law enforcement went over that line and the Iowa Court of Appeals reversed Matthew’s conviction for Burglary and suppressed his “confession”.
While being questioned, Matthew was told by law enforcement “I am offering you an option here to come clean and lessen the charge…” and “If you want to help yourself you are going to talk to try and lower this penalty down a bit” The bottom line is that law enforcement was making it seem that if Matthew confessed he would be charged with theft rather than burglary. The court found that Matthew’s confession was made under the influence of a long prison sentence versus the promise of easier treatment if he confessed. This made the confession involuntary and the court of appeals suppressed its use.
By the way, Matthew was charged and convicted of burglary despite what he was promised.
There are a couple of really important points to take away from this. First, if law enforcement claims they have enough evidence to convict you and still want you to confess, that usually means they don’t have enough and they need your confession to make their case. Don’t give them that help. If law enforcement has everything they need to convict you, why do they need to get you to confess? Be polite but refuse to talk to law enforcement.
Second, law enforcement often promises that they will put in a good word to the county attorney (prosecutor). That, in and of itself, is not stepping over the line, but, this sort of promise means nothing. It is the county attorney who makes the final decision on what you will be charged with, not law enforcement. It is not uncommon to be arrested for one crime and be charged by the county attorney with a different crime. It is also the county attorney who makes the final decision on what sentence to ask for if there is a conviction; law enforcement’s “good word” is only one of the factors they consider.
Confession may be good for the soul but remember “confess and be hanged”.