If you have been accused of a crime and not yet retained an experienced criminal defense attorney, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the police’s demands to discuss the alleged charges. When you are unrepresented, police are more likely to employ illegal tactics to get a confession from you. These tactics include using violence, promises, or threats to force a confession. To best protect your rights, it is important to know how police can – and, more importantly, cannot – elicit a confession from you during their investigations.
Any confession made involuntarily cannot be used against you in court. However, not all involuntary confessions fall under this category. A forced or coerced confession has only occurred when the police have threatened to use, or have used, violence against the accused which directly lead to their confession. Some examples of this type of force include:
- Use of violence, including choking, hitting, or pushing a suspect
- Threats of violence
- Promising to lessen the potential charges or jail time in exchange for a confession
- Withholding food or water from a suspect during interrogations
While this is not an exhaustive list of all the ways the police can force a confession from you, all of them include the necessary elements to qualify as a forced confession: violence or threats to intimidate a suspect into a confession. Police officers can lie during interrogations regarding what evidence they have against you to elicit a confession and this will not qualify as a forced confession. A confession will only be forced if it aligns with some of the examples given above.
Florida has a long history of established case law which supports that the police cannot question you in this manner, and then convict you with that confession. In the 1800s, a slave was accused of arson and the investigators threatened to hang him if he did not confess to the crime. Despite having no evidence against him, the slave admitted to the crimes due to the threat of death during his interrogation. The court found this was a forced confession that could not be used against him. Simon v. State, 5 Fla. 285 (1853). More recently, the Supreme Court of Florida decided a confession was not forced when a police officer was violent with a suspect, then the suspect later confessed to the crimes to a different police officer. Braddy v. State, 111 So.3d 810 (Fla. 2012).
The procedure to have the forced confession suppressed, or thrown out, is called a Motion to Suppress Confession. While this can be proven, it is a difficult standard to meet, especially when you are unrepresented. Since there are many factors that must be considered to determine if police officers have inappropriately forced a confession from a suspect, you must contact a qualified attorney immediately if you feel your rights have been violated during a criminal investigation to have this evidence suppressed.