After working in law for over 15 years, Traverse City lawyer Patrick Fragel has discovered that many citizens are unaware of their basic rights. This country’s laws are designed for many purposes, but mainly to protect its citizens and to ensure that every citizen has the right to justice. One of the laws that clearly demonstrates these notions is the Fourteenth Amendment. This enforces “due process,” which declares that all confessions that police officers obtain from citizens suspected of crimes must be voluntary. Anyone who violates due process will make the confession statement inadmissible as evidence in court, causing the case to take a new turn.
In regards to criminal law, a confession is an accused party’s admission of guilt to a crime. Patrick Fragel explains how a voluntary confession is when the suspected party willingly admits their guilt without the police using force, coercion, or intimidation. Every United States citizen is granted the right to a voluntary confession, and they should never have to worry about being forced into an involuntary admission.
It can be slightly difficult trying to prove that a confession was voluntary in court. Depending on the state and jurisdiction, certain courts may utilize different methods of proving the voluntariness of a confession. A popular method used by some jurisdictions is called “preponderance of the evidence.” This standard means that the evidence has to indicate that the statement was most likely voluntary. However, some jurisdictions may enforce a higher standard of proof to ensure the voluntariness of a confession. Another common standard enforced is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Patrick Fragel mentions how there is a general standard held by most courts to determine the voluntariness of a confession: if it reflects deliberateness of choice and if the confession was a product of free and unrestricted will. The determination of the voluntariness is subject to modification depending on the jurisdiction, and it usually depends on the other facts presented in the case.
When a confession is determined to have been non-voluntary, it can change the court proceedings. Involuntary confessions cannot be used as evidence in court and will be declared inadmissible. A trial will exclude any confession that has been obtained by threats, intimidation, or violence. Fragel provides the following examples of tactics used to extract involuntary confessions:
- Depriving the suspect of food, water, or using the bathroom
- Promising the suspect leniency
- Striking the suspect
- Interrogating the suspect at gunpoint
In some instances, a confession might be declared voluntary and then revealed to be involuntary after it has been used in court. A judge has the right to reverse the conviction in this scenario and throw out the involuntary confession statement.
Patrick Fragel indicates that it is important to remember that even if a confession has been deemed involuntary, it will not automatically void the entire conviction. The case may still stand if there is enough evidence to support it without the help of the confession. An example of additional evidence that can trump the negation of an involuntary confession is an eyewitness testimony.
There are various factors that play into the voluntariness of a confession. The defendant’s age, health, mental condition, and intelligence are all major components. Defendants who are more vulnerable are more likely to have a court find the confession involuntary because they may declare that a certain interrogative technique was abusive.
Fragel lists some of the other factors that come into play when determining the voluntariness of a confession.
- Location of questioning
- Length of interrogation
- Whether officers delivered the Miranda Warning
- Whether police honored the suspect’s requests for a lawyer or wishes to remain silent
- Whether the defendant was allowed to contact their lawyer or family
- Who initiated the conversation
- The defendant’s experience with criminal justice
Patrick Fragel On How You Can Avoid Involuntary Confessions
“As a United States citizen, you have the right to due process and the right to give a voluntary confession,” states Patrick Fragel. “Even though the Constitution protects our rights, that does not mean that everyone complies by the rules. Besides understanding your rights to voluntary confession, you have to know the best ways to protect yourself.”
Patrick Fragel explains how the most effective way to avoid being subjected to an involuntary confession is to seek help from an attorney. Citizens have the right to remain silent during an initial investigation and can seek guidance from a lawyer thanks to the Fifth Amendment. Even after charges have been filed, the Sixth Amendment grants citizens the right to an attorney to assist with post-charge interrogations.
An attorney looks out for the best interests of the client. They will ensure that all statements and confessions made are done on a willing basis and that nothing is extracted involuntarily. Patrick Fragel advises citizens to remain silent until their lawyer arrives so that they can expedite the process and make sure that they will be given a fair and just trial.