Suppressing a Confession

Typically when a confession is being contested in a criminal case the Defendant’s lawyer will file a motion with the Court assigned to the case and request an evidentiary hearing pursuant to People v Walker, 374 Mich 331 (1965).  The hearing considers the totality of the circumstances surrounding the statement made.

The United States and Michigan Constitutions guarantee a criminal defendant the right against self-incrimination. US Const, Am V; Const 1963, art 1, § 17; People v Cheatham, 453 Mich 1, 9; 551 NW2d 355 (1996). Statements made by a defendant during a custodial interrogation are therefore inadmissible absent a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of the defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights.  People v Tierney, 266 Mich App at 707, citing Miranda v Arizona, 384 US at 444.   Miranda warnings only apply to custodial interrogation.  Often an issue at a Walker hearing is whether or not the Defendant was in custody at the time that the statement was made.

“Whether a statement was voluntary is determined by examining police conduct, but the determination whether it was made knowingly and intelligently depends, in part, on the defendant’s capacity.” People v Tierney, 266 Mich App at 707. For instance, a mental illness that prompts the defendant to confess to a crime does not render the confession involuntary absent an element of police coercion. See Colorado v Connelly, 479 US 157, 164; 107 S Ct 515; 93 L Ed 2d 473 (1986). By contrast, the question of whether a defendant’s waiver was knowingly and intelligently made requires the court to make “sweeping inquiries into the state of mind of a criminal defendant who confessed, inquiries quite divorced from any coercion brought to bear on the defendant by the State.” People v Cheatham, 453 Mich at 21-22, quoting Colorado v Connelly, 479 US at 167. Accordingly, the Miranda waiver analysis is bifurcated into two parts: (1) whether the defendant’s waiver was voluntary, and; (2) whether the waiver was also knowing and intelligent. People v Daoud, 462 Mich 621, 639; 614 NW2d 152 (2000). The prosecutor bears the burden of proving that the defendant validly waived his rights by a preponderance of the evidence. Tierney, 266 Mich App at 707.

In determining whether a defendant’s confession is voluntary, this Court considers the totality of the circumstances, including:

[1] the age of the accused; [2] his lack of education or his intelligence level; [3] the extent of his previous experience with the police; [4] the repeated and prolonged nature of the questioning; [5] the length of the detention of the accused before he gave the statement in question; [6] the lack of any advice to the accused of his constitutional rights; [7] whether there was an unnecessary delay in bringing him before a magistrate before he gave the confession; [8] whether the accused was injured, intoxicated or drugged, or in ill health when he gave the statement; [9] whether the accused was deprived of food, sleep, or medical attention; [10] whether the accused was physically abused; and [11] whether the suspect was threatened with abuse. [People v Cipriano, 431 Mich 315, 333-334; 429 NW2d 781 (1988).]

No single factor is considered dispositive. People v Tierney, 266 Mich App at 708. The ultimate question is “whether the totality of the circumstances surrounding the making of the confession indicates that it was freely and voluntarily made.” People v Cipriano, 431 Mich at 334.

To establish the knowing and intelligent prong, the prosecutor must demonstrate that defendant “[1] understood that he did not have to speak, [2] that he had the right to the presence of counsel, and [3] that the state could use what he said in a later trial against him.” People v Cheatham, 453 Mich at 29. A defendant’s IQ and his mental disability are certainly relevant to this analysis, but they are only two factors to be considered among the total circumstances that a court must assess in determining whether a defendant possesses the level of comprehension necessary to waive Miranda. Id. at 35-36, 40-43. Further, a defendant “need not fully appreciate the ramifications of talking to the police” to effect a knowing and intelligent waiver. People v Abraham, 234 Mich App 640, 647; 599 NW2d 736 (1999). It is sufficient that the defendant have a very basic or literal understanding of his rights, even if his mental incapacity or delusions “prevent[] him from appreciating those rights as they applied to his own situation.” People v Daoud, 462 Mich at 642-644.

At the Walker hearing the prosecution calls witnesses under oath to testify concerning the facts and circumstances of the confession.  The Defendant’s lawyer has the ability to cross examine any witness called to testify.  The Defense can call witnesses to testify at this hearing, including the Defendant.  There are potential advantages and risks in having a Defendant testify at a Walker hearing which need to be carefully considered by the Defendant’s lawyer.

The Judge considers the facts of the case and the applicable law when reaching a decision.  If the confession is excluded, the case may go forward if there is additional proof that the alleged crime occurred.  Certainly the exclusion of a confession can severely impair a prosecutor’s ability to prove his or her case beyond a reasonable doubt.

There are many lawyers who claim to do more than what they are able – just as there are many surgeons in the world that are no better than butchers. Do not settle for a legal hack job. Practicing law is a skill that develops over time with experience, commitment, dedication, and God given talent. There are no amateur attorneys at Hilf & Hilf, PLC – only professionals that are guided by the humanity in the individuals we serve, and the drive not to settle for what is easy over what is right.