The defendant was arrested for robbery. The officers found a weapon on him that was connected to a murder. The defendant denied committing the murder for the first six hours of the interview. Then, within the hearing of the defendant, an officer pretended to place a phone call directing other officers to prepare to bring the defendant’s wife in for questioning. The defendant remained silent from that point on until he was told by the officer that his wife was about to be taken into custody. The defendant then confessed. The next day, the local Coroner directed that the defendant be held incommunicado at the jail. When the defendant’s lawyer tried to visit the defendant, he was turned away. The defendant was then taken to the Coroner’s office where he was placed under oath and confessed again. In ruling on the admissibility of the defendant’s confessions, the trial judge took into account the probable truth or falsity of the confessions in determining whether or not they had been voluntarily given. The statements were admitted into evidence and the defendant was convicted of murder.
Whether the correct legal standard in determining the admissibility of the defendant’s statements is the likelihood of truthfulness?
No. In determining the voluntariness of a confession, the correct legal standard is whether the government’s conduct was such as to overbear the defendant’s will to resist.
The Court stated that the correct standard is “whether the behavior of the State’s law enforcement officials was such as to overbear the petitioner’s will to resist and bring about confessions not freely self-determined….” This question must be answered without regard to whether the defendant was speaking truthfully when he made the confession. The Court reaffirmed its holdings in previous decisions that “convictions following the admission into evidence of confessions which are involuntary, i.e., the product of coercion, either physical or psychological, cannot stand.” This is not because the confessions are unlikely to be true, but because due process of law requires the government to establish a defendant’s guilt “by evidence independently and freely secured, and may not by coercion prove its charge against an accused out of his own mouth.”
365 U.S. 534, 81 S. Ct. 735 (1961)