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27 Nov 23

How Long Island Criminal Defense Lawyers Challenge Unreliable Confessions

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Last Updated on: 6th December 2023, 11:06 pm

How Long Island Criminal Defense Lawyers Challenge Unreliable Confessions

Being accused of a crime you didn’t commit is a nightmare scenario. And if the prosecution’s main evidence against you is an unreliable confession that was coerced or contaminated, it can seem hopeless to fight the charges. But skilled Long Island criminal defense lawyers have tactics to get unreliable confessions thrown out. This article explains common problems with false confessions and how lawyers challenge them in court.

The Problem of False Confessions

Research shows that false confessions are a leading contributor to wrongful convictions. The Innocence Project estimates that over 30% of DNA exoneration cases involved false confessions. Why would an innocent person confess? There are typically three categories:

  1. Coerced Compliant False Confessions: The suspect confesses just to escape a stressful interrogation, get out of custody, or avoid abuse. They may come to believe that confessing is the only way out even though they are innocent.
  2. Coerced Internalized False Confessions: Prolonged interrogation pressures make an innocent suspect doubt their own memories and come to wrongly believe they may have committed the crime.
  3. Contaminated False Confessions: Investigators feed the suspect key details about the crime, intentionally or not. The suspect then repeats these details back in a confession, making it sound convincing. But the details did not actually come from the suspect’s own memory.

Police are supposed to avoid contamination by not exposing a suspect to non-public details about the crime. But without recording requirements, there’s no proof of what actually happened in the interrogation room.

Nassau and Suffolk counties in Long Island have a long, troubled history of false confession cases later overturned by DNA evidence. This includes Marty Tankleff’s 17-year wrongful imprisonment based on a confession coerced when he was 17. And the Central Park Five case where teens were intimidated into confessing to assault they didn’t commit. After high-profile injustices like these, New York State finally began requiring police to electronically record major felony interrogations in 2018. But there are still loopholes, like only requiring recording of statements and not full interrogations.

How Defense Lawyers Challenge Confessions

The good news is that skilled Long Island criminal lawyers have tactics to challenge unreliable, contaminated, or coerced confessions in court. Their strategies may include:

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File a Motion to Suppress

Defense lawyers can file a pretrial motion to suppress the confession evidence and prevent prosecutors from using it at trial. They must convince the judge there were constitutional issues with how police obtained the confession, like:

  • Violating the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination
  • Violating the 6th Amendment right to an attorney
  • Coercive interrogation tactics
  • Contamination of facts

The burden is on the defense to show the confession was illegally obtained through a preponderance of evidence. Having an electronic recording of the full interrogation can help prove contamination or coercion issues. But police often avoid recording when they overstep boundaries.

Attack Credibility at Trial

If a motion to suppress fails, defense lawyers will aggressively attack the credibility of confession evidence at trial. Like with eyewitness testimony, juries put heavy weight on confessions despite reliability flaws. Lawyers must educate juries on problems like:

  • Coercion tactics wearing down resistance
  • Contamination with key case details
  • Mental illness or youth making suspect suggestible
  • Desire to escape abusive interrogation

They may call expert witnesses on the psychology of false confessions. Or have the defendant testify about tactics that manipulated them into confessing to crimes they didn’t commit.

Present Alternative Suspect Theory

A false confession alone doesn’t prove what actually happened. The state still has the burden of proving guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Savvy defense lawyers will present juries with an alternative theory of the crime that points to another viable suspect. Like an abusive boyfriend, or drug dealer with motive to commit the murder their client confessed to. This introduces reasonable doubt to outweigh a contaminated confession.

Check Case Details

Smart lawyers dig deep into the case details provided in the confession statement. They investigate to see if some details don’t add up with actual evidence of how the crime happened. Facts that don’t fit could indicate contamination from police leaking key details. Presenting these inconsistencies can devastate credibility of confession evidence.

Call Out Missing Evidence

Police are prone to tunnel vision once hearing a confession. They stop investigating other leads or suspects that could actually be guilty. This can leave big gaps where investigation was inadequate. Savvy lawyers shine a light on sloppy police work, failure to verify alibis, or test DNA that could exonerate their client. This erodes faith in reliability of the confession evidence.

Fighting Uphill Battles

Defending false confession cases is challenging with built-in bias among judges, juries, and the public. People struggle to accept that someone would confess unless they were guilty. But Long Island exonerations prove unreliable confessions contribute to terrible injustices. Skilled criminal defense lawyers have tactics to challenge confession evidence. Recording entire interrogations instead of just statements would help prevent contamination and coercion. There is still a long way to go in reforming the system. But the tide is slowly turning towards preventing and overturning false confession convictions.

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