Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Anatomy of a Confession (continued)

A court makes the ultimate determination at a pre-trial hearing if a defendant made a voluntary confession.  In New York, this is called a Huntley hearing.  Remember, these issue all deal with New York law, which is generally more restrictive than federal law.  Also, this is not an exhaustive list of any of these topics. 

When Miranda Warnings Are Not Required

1) When taking the suspect's pedigree information - name, date of birth, address, and other info. 
2) When the suspect is not in custody. 
3) Spontaneous statements - the police do not have to read Miranda to quiet a person who speaks without prompting.
4) Investigative questioning - the police are not required to give Miranda warnings to every person when they first arrive on the scene and begin an investigation.

What the Police Can Do During Questioning
1) Use a trick or ruse, as long as the deceit is not so unfair as to deny the suspect due process.  This usually takes the shape of informing the defendant he has been identified  by a witness or that his DNA was recovered.
2) Tell the defendant they will inform the court and DA that the defendant was cooperative.
3) Record the interview if they choose.

What the Police Cannot Do
1) Promise immunity
2) Promise a lesser charge or a specific sentence
3) Threaten the suspect to make a statement
4) Harm the suspect

Again, every case is unique and the specific facts of each will determine the court's ruling on admissibility of the confession.  This is merely an informative guide.


  1. So what happens if the police come to the scene of a crime and right when they get there, a person there spotaneously says, "I did it" and starts admitting to it? Do they then have to read the Miranda rights? Would that spontaneous confession make it all the way to trial or would it be suppressed somehow?

  2. They can ask clarifying questions to the person confessing. He is still out of custody at that point and the warnings are not necessary.

    The police are under no duty to shut someone up who is spontaneously confessing whether in or out of custody.

    Once he stops speaking, they cuff him, and put him in a police car they will need to warn him before questioning him further.

    In your scenario, the spontaneous confession would be admissible.

  3. It seems pretty complicated, I don't know how you all keep track of everything, to be honest. I suppose a lot of time is given to deciding if the 'tricks' police use during questioning is fair or not.

  4. It is complicated. The more you see, the easier it is to distinguish the good from the bad. The further along I get in my career, the more police officers call me directly to ask whether they can legally do something. It's nice to head off any potential argument up front.