A confession is normally the most damaging piece of evidence that the State can use against a defendant. Courts are reluctant to throw out confessions.
In order for a confession to be used against a defendant at trial, the confession must be voluntary and with understanding. If there is official compulsion or coercion by law enforcement officers to obtain a confession this makes the confession involuntary and inadmissible to a jury. Courts look at the totality of the circumstances surrounding the statement to determine if the statement was voluntary and with understanding. Specific factors to determine if the statement was voluntary include:
- Officers’ conduct before and during interrogation
- Defendant’s physical and mental condition before and during interrogation
- Defendant’s prior history of involvement with law enforcement officers
- Background in which the questioning took place
- Did the officers make promises or threats to the defendant (induced by hope or fear)
- Did the officers use deception (courts have said a fair amount of deception is ok)
A suspect in custody must be given their Miranda Warnings and sign a valid waiver (waiver of Miranda rights) before questioning can take place by law enforcement officers:
- You have the right to remain silent
- Anything you say may be used against you in court
- You have a right to an attorney during interrogation
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you
If at any time prior to or during questioning the suspect wishes to remain silent, the interrogation or questioning must stop. Miranda warnings do not apply to spontaneous statements. Spontaneous statements are statements a person just blurts out without a question being asked. Spontaneous statements are normally admissible against a defendant, however, the circumstances explaining the spontaneous statements are also admissible. Just remaining silent does not waive Miranda rights no matter how many questions law enforcement officers ask.
Sometimes, depending on the offense, the defendant’s custodial interrogation must be recorded. (Class A, B1, or B2 felony or any Class C felony of rape, sex offense, or assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury). Even if the statement was not recorded, the Court still allows law enforcement officers to prove that there was a good reason for not recording the statement.
Special rules apply to young suspects in custody before interrogation can start. Usually, if the suspect is under 18 years of age that will trigger the special rules.