Archive for the ‘Confessions’ Category

Extending the Right to Counsel?

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

In the “class participation” section of my comic, commenter G. T. Bogosian this morning asked:

Why does the supreme court keep guaranteeing that we have a right to counsel, but only in situations that almost never come up in real life? Is there some guiding constitutional interpretive philosophy that explains all or most of this? Or does the supreme court just really want to sound like they are pro-defendants’ rights without actually jeopardizing law-enforcement?

To which I hastily replied over my morning coffee:

They just haven’t extended the rule far enough yet.

Originally, the right-to-counsel clause of the Sixth Amendment was intended to allow you have a defense attorney. It was a reaction to the English rule prohibiting defense counsel.

The English prohibition started out as a well-intentioned policy. Originally, criminal trials didn’t involve lawyers on either side. The victim or his family presented their case, and the defendant defended himself. A criminal trial was a “battle of amateurs,” and so judges would strictly enforce the prohibition on defense counsel to be fair. Lawyers were also seen as an impediment, preventing the court from getting all the evidence it could have heard.

But by the time of the American Revolution, the rule had become unfair. Defendants had to deal with the intricacies of procedure, complexities of law, and now the government was using lawyers to prosecute cases. The Sixth Amendment was meant to fix that unfairness.

But the focus then was only on the trial itself. The framers of the Bill of Rights were really only thinking about trial. The Amendment’s rights apply “in all criminal prosecutions,” and at the time, that meant “at trial.”

Over time, however, prosecutions got longer, and more procedures came to be seen as being part of the case. Defendants had to face professional lawyer adversaries earlier and earlier, and confront witnesses at pretrial and preliminary hearings. The Supreme Court responded by extending the right to counsel, letting it take effect sooner.

The rule became that the right to counsel “attaches” at all “critical stages” of a prosecution before trial.

And that’s what the Court was thinking when it talked about interrogations and lineups. The Court was trying to be expansive, to say these investigative procedures were in fact “critical stages” of a prosecution, requiring the assistance of counsel.

But the right is still only about “criminal prosecutions.” And there is no prosecution until the defendant has been formally charged. A prosecution does not begin with a police investigation. A prosecution does not begin with an arrest. It begins with arraignment in court on a complaint, an indictment by a grand jury, and similar court procedures formally accusing the defendant of a crime.

It would be a leap of language — but not of logic — to extend the rule of the Sixth Amendment sooner, to extend it to police investigations. Remember, police weren’t a thing when the Sixth Amendment was written. They have since become an important part of the government’s prosecution of a case. The Court already recognizes that the investigative stage is a critical stage of the prosecution; it just hasn’t recognized that the investigative stage precedes the filing of an accusatory instrument.

Right now, however, that is where they’ve drawn the line. They’ve adhered to the words of the Amendment rather than the principle they’ve recognized. And this rule has become “well-settled” by the passage of time.

So the short answer to your question is they’re trying to protect defendants, but haven’t yet seen that to do that they need to extend the meaning of “criminal prosecution” to include police investigations.

It’s not impossible. They did that with self-incrimination, as we saw in the previous chapter, extending the right to pre-prosecution interrogations. Nevertheless, challenge to get the Court to extend the right to counsel meaningfully would have to overcome the inertia of stare decisis, would have to present a powerfully principled argument, and would have to rigorously unknot the Court’s perpetual confusion over what to do about police given (also covered in the previous chapter) that the law never contemplated the roles that police have taken on.

But now it’s later in the morning, I’m at work, having a coffee break, and I’m pondering a couple of things. My thoughts are disjointed, and perhaps writing them down will bring clarity.

We’ve already extended the right to counsel beyond the charging instrument to the police investigation, in the self-incrimination context. Is there really much of an obstacle to applying the same reasoning to other contexts where the Court recognizes the need for counsel’s protection? Would a rule like Miranda work in something like eyewitness identifications?

I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch. Yes, there are very different policies in play, but as a practical matter the rule would seem to work.

 

With self-incrimination, the policy is to prevent the government from forcing you to give evidence against yourself. There’s a waiveable right to counsel at a custodial interrogation in the hopes of ensuring that self-incrimination is voluntary. (That’s not how it works, but that’s not the point.)

With identifications, however, the policy is to prevent the government from interfering with a witness’s memory. Not overcoming your free will, but tampering with the evidence. Would a waiveable right to counsel insure against such tampering?

The Court has already recognized the need for counsel at post-indictment lineups and showups, to ensure minimal messing with minds. So it seems easy to extend that protection pre-indictment. (It hasn’t been extended to photo arrays, though, which can be just as dangerous and are much more common. But let’s just pretend those are included, for the sake of argument, and because I can dream, can’t I?)

But when would it attach? At first glance, the “custody” requirement of Miranda doesn’t make sense here. Custody is important to Miranda because it implies compulsion. But compulsion isn’t an issue in IDs.

Still, it couldn’t attach at the outset of a police investigation. Even though that’s arguably when the police can do the most damage to witness memory, by careless questioning and suggestion. Because there’s no suspect yet. Who’s the defense lawyer defending? Plus requiring a lawyer to be looking over the cop’s shoulder during the preliminary stages would be time-consuming, wasteful, and a serious impediment to collecting evidence.

Arrest, on the other hand, is too late. Often, the arrest isn’t made until after the ID procedure we’re trying to protect.

So on second thought, custody seems to be a meaningful bright line to draw. It’s already understood by police and counsel, for one thing. But it’s a workable line between when a lawyer is useful or not. Once the suspect is in custody, there’s someone whose rights can be defended. The preliminary stages of the investigation are over, so a lawyer is less of an impediment.

As showups usually require custody, they would have to wait until counsel could be obtained, unless counsel was waived. That could be a problem. Most showups are quick-and-dirty “did we get the right guy” scenarios shortly after the crime. Requiring counsel would require a lot of delay. In a drive-by ID, I reckon counsel would have to be in the car with the witness and the detective, to make sure nothing too suggestive was said, and that could be physically difficult to arrange. The logistics aren’t insurmountable, but they’re awkward.

But lineups and photo arrays are easy. While the detectives are setting everything up, they bring in the lawyer as well. Logistically not a problem. And even in showups, the lawyer isn’t an impediment. Police actually do want to do these things right, and a lawyer’s role would be to ensure that they do.

If the right’s waiveable, what would the warnings look like? “An eyewitness is going to look at you, to tell us if they recognize you as the person who committed a crime. You have the right to have an attorney present during this procedure. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you. Do you wish to have an attorney present at this time?” Again, awkward. But not terribly so.

Would it even be waived? This isn’t like confessions, where suspects often want to tell their story, and will gladly waive their rights in order to do so. A suspect has nothing to gain from waiving here, so I imagine few rational suspects would say “nah, go ahead, I don’t need a lawyer for this.”

As a practical matter, I don’t see it being waived all that often. So a defense lawyer would be required at most ID procedures. In interrogations, invoking the right to counsel simply means “no interrogation.” They don’t go round up a lawyer. Would a right to counsel in identifications essentially mean “no identifications?” I don’t see any court agreeing to that, if that’s the case.

And yet, with both interrogations and identifications, the courts have recognized the great potential for injustice, and have stated that a lawyer’s protection is the remedy. And perhaps the risk of losing identifications isn’t that high. It’s not as if the police would decline to conduct ID procedures just because a lawyer would be watching. It’s not the same as interrogations, where any lawyer would simply advise her client not to answer any questions. Here, a lawyer would only be watching to make sure the police did their job right. It’s a very different dynamic. I imagine that it wouldn’t reduce the number of ID procedures meaningfully.

So to answer my own questions, I’m starting to convince myself that a rule analogous to Miranda might actually work in the ID world. Once a suspect is in custody, he has a waiveable right to an attorney at any ID procedure. It seems doable, and consistent with the way our law’s been trending over the past 75 years or so.

Welp, coffee break’s over. I’m done rambling. It’s been fun, but back to work.

On this latest Miranda thing…

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

So after catching one of the guys thought to have committed the Boston Marathon bombing (and a string of violent acts thereafter), the government said they weren’t going to read him his rights. Not just yet. Invoking the “public safety exception” to the Miranda rule, they said they wanted a chance to find out who he was working with, where other bombs might be, etc., before telling him he’s allowed to clam up.

Predictably, a lot of people were upset about this. But why?

Yes, it was wrong of the administration to say that. But not for the reasons everyone’s saying. Not because it’s further eroding our rights (it’s not), but because it’s just stupid.

It conflates intelligence with evidence — stupid. It misses the whole point of Miranda — stupid. It defeats the purpose of intel — stupid. And pisses off those who love the Constitution — stupid.

And of course, it’s nothing new.

About three years ago, the Obama administration made it DOJ policy to permit “unwarned interrogation” not only in situations involving immediate public safety (“where’s the bomb?”), but also cases where cops believe getting intel outweighs your right to remain silent.

The 2010 memorandum states:

There may be exceptional cases in which, although all relevant public safety questions have been asked, agents nonetheless conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat, and that the government’s interest in obtaining this intelligence outweighs the disadvantages of proceeding with unwarned interrogation. [4] In these instances, agents should seek SAC approval to proceed with unwarned interrogation after the public safety questioning is concluded. Whenever feasible, the SAC will consult with FBI-HQ (including OGC) and Department of Justice attorneys before granting approval. Presentment of an arrestee may not be delayed simply to continue the interrogation, unless the defendant has timely waived prompt presentment.

On top of that, the Obama administration wanted Congress to specifically pass legislation allowing longer interrogations before Miranda need be invoked. (A brilliant writer blogged about that memo a couple of years ago, concluding that it was “An Unnecessary Rule.”)

The administration is just trying to have its cake and eat it, too. Miranda does not prevent them from gathering intelligence. The Fifth Amendment does not prevent them from gathering intelligence. They can interrogate people all they want, in any way they want, and the Constitution doesn’t say jack about it. But if they force you to incriminate yourself against your own will, they’re just not allowed to use those statements against you to prove your guilt in a criminal proceeding. That doesn’t mean they can’t force you to incriminate yourself, and it doesn’t mean they can’t use those statements for other purposes.

But the government wants to be able to do both. It wants to be able to override your free will, force you to condemn yourself, and use your words both to prevent future attacks (laudable) and to convict you so the State can punish you (contemptible).

Their saying this out loud is idiotic, because everyone sees how contemptible it is, and the government looks even more like an enemy of the public, rather than its protector. And of course giving a heads-up to the real bad guys about what we’ll be doing. (And announcing it in a specific case, as they did this week, just lets everyone in the bomber’s organization know that we’re learning everything that guy could tell us. Stupid. You never want the enemy to know how much you know.)

But it’s also stupid because it misses the ENTIRE POINT of Miranda.

Sorry to break this to you, but Miranda isn’t about protecting your rights. It never was.

Miranda is about giving the police a free pass. It always has been.

The Fifth Amendment is there to make sure we don’t have another Star Chamber. We don’t want the government using its power to override your free will, and make you confess to a crime so it can punish you. Lots of confessions are purely voluntary. In fact, most probably are. But sometimes the government has to force it out of you, and we don’t want that to happen.

But it’s hard for courts to tell voluntary confessions from involuntary ones. They have to look at facts and assess things on a case-by-case basis. That’s hard. And it’s hard for police to know if they’re crossing the line, when the line is different for every individual. So the Miranda rule creates an easy line that applies to everyone:

Say the magic words, and the law presumes that the confession was voluntary.

See how easy that was? Not hard. Easy.

All a cop has to do is recite the Miranda litany as they’re taking a suspect into custody, and BAM! they get to interrogate all they want, and everything the guy says can be used in evidence at his trial.

It is hard to imagine a more pro-law-enforcement rule. In one stroke, Miranda dispensed with actual voluntariness, and replaced it with “as a matter of law” pretend voluntariness.

And yet law enforcement — even our nation’s top officials, who went to law school and everything — astoundingly persist in thinking Miranda is bad for them. They think that, if you mirandize someone, they’ll shut up, and you’ll lose all that delicious intel and lovely evidence. (NYPD officers are actually trained NOT to mirandize people on arrest, for this very reason. Yeah, TV ain’t real life.)

But here’s the kicker: People don’t clam up when they’ve been read their rights. The people who clam up remain silent regardless of whether they’ve been mirandized or not. In fact, there is evidence that people are MORE likely to talk once they’ve been read their rights. They don’t know what those rights mean, but they know they’ve got them, and TV has conditioned them to expect the magic words. So when they hear them, they relax. All is well. Their rights are being acknowledged. And they start blabbing.

So not only do the magic words let you use all those statements, compelled or not, but they actually get the statements flowing.

So wanting to hold off on saying them is just stupid. Counterproductive. Idiotic.

So there’s lots of reasons to dislike what the government is saying in this case. But eroding our rights just isn’t one of them.

You lost those rights in 1966.

An Unnecessary Rule: FBI Memo on Mirandizing Terror Suspects is a Waste of Paper

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

So on Thursday the WSJ reported that the Obama administration has changed the rules of investigating terror suspects, to permit interrogation without Miranda warnings in certain circumstances:

A Federal Bureau of Investigation memorandum reviewed by The Wall Street Journal says the policy applies to “exceptional cases” where investigators “conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat.” Such action would need prior approval from FBI supervisors and Justice Department lawyers, according to the memo, which was issued in December but not made public.

We made a few notes, hoping to get a minute to blog on the issue.  It just struck us as a stupid and unnecessary thing to do, if prevention of terrorist acts is the goal.  Miranda is just a protection affecting evidence that can be used at the trial of the person being interrogated.  That has to do with evidence of past crimes; it’s irrelevant to the prevention of future acts.  And if the goal is to gather evidence for a criminal trial, then it’s just unconstitutional.  It’s stupid no matter which way you look at it.  But our current never-ending trial is demanding pretty much every waking moment, and nothing got written.

Then yesterday the NYT published the text of the October 2010 FBI memo.  The relevant paragraph provides that:

There may be exceptional cases in which, although all relevant public safety questions have been asked, agents nonetheless conclude that continued unwarned interrogation is necessary to collect valuable and timely intelligence not related to any immediate threat, and that the government’s interest in obtaining this intelligence outweighs the disadvantages of proceeding with unwarned interrogation. [4] In these instances, agents should seek SAC approval to proceed with unwarned interrogation after the public safety questioning is concluded. Whenever feasible, the SAC will consult with FBI-HQ (including OGC) and Department of Justice attorneys before granting approval. Presentment of an arrestee may not be delayed simply to continue the interrogation, unless the defendant has timely waived prompt presentment.

At the words “prompt presentment,” we (figuratively) slapped our forehead.  It all came back to us.  In May 2010, when the Obama administration first floated the idea, (more…)

Right for the Wrong Reasons: Why terrorists and enemy combatants don’t belong in civilian criminal courts

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Last week, the House passed a bill that would prevent the federal government from prosecuting Guantanamo detainees in civilian courts (by cutting off the funds to do so).  The Senate is now considering it as part of the 1,900-page omnibus spending bill.  This is largely seen as a reaction to the acquittal of Ahmed Ghaliani — the first Guantanamo detainee to be tried in civilian court — of more than 280 charges stemming from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa.

The Obama administration is fighting against it, with AG Holder writing a (fairly lame, in our eyes) letter insisting that we absolutely must use civilian courts to deal with terrorists and captured combatants.  Essentially, his argument is that civilian courts are a tool that has worked before, so why deny that tool to the executive branch and make it fight the bad guys with one hand tied behind its back?

Ignore the ham-handed attempt to co-opt a common complaint about the left’s frequent insistence on soldiers doing actual fighting with one hand tied behind their backs, lest they rile someone’s sensibilities.  It’s a dumb argument.  Guantanamo detainees didn’t commit crimes within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.  Their acts are acts of war, or of transnational combat that is more like war than anything else.

Congress is gearing up to do the right thing, but for the wrong reason.  The principle should not be “we can’t do this because we might lose in court” — that’s not even a principle.  It’s just a weakling’s worry.  The principle should be “we can’t do this because it’s wrong.”

First off, soldiers are (more…)

Something to Consider Before Speaking to Law Enforcement

Friday, November 12th, 2010

That is all.

Why Innocent People Confess — Update

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Last month, we wrote a piece here on reasons why innocent people wind up confessing to crimes they didn’t commit.  It’s a horrible thought, yet it happens far too often.  (For tips on defending cases involving a confession, see our CLE lecture over at West Legal Ed Center.)

Anyway, there’s a good article in the latest issue of New York Magazine called “I Did It: Why do people confess to crimes they didn’t commit?”  It’s worth a read, so we figured we’d give you all the link.

Temporary Incomprehension

Monday, October 4th, 2010

The blawgosphere was atwitter recently over that Kentucky murder trial where the defendant had confessed, but claimed it was a false confession, due to “sleep-deprived psychosis” from drinking too much coffee.  The jury didn’t buy it (here’s a short article on it).

Did that case remind anyone else of this short film?

Still Life

It’s no secret that sleep deprivation does crazy things to the brain.  Among other things, it dramatically impairs judgment and cognition, and for this reason has for decades been seen as a highly effective interrogation tool by intelligence agencies around the world.  No matter how well trained, most people are simply going to break after a fairly short period of disorientation and sleep deprivation.  Of course, sleep deprivation also results in hallucinations, extreme discomfort, and memory problems — as well as increased suggestibility — making useful interrogation under such circumstances a job requiring the utmost care and attention.  It’s worse than dealing with a young child (as we all know, children are enormously suggestible, so that their statements can be manipulated unwittingly even by one’s body language and tone of voice).  It’s like questioning a child who is stressing from sheer confusion, and who is also in a hypnotic state.  Suffice it to say that the slightest error by the interrogator can produce completely unreliable results, or at best results that must be artfully interpreted to divine what’s more likely to be the truth.

Suffice it also to say that the vast majority of law enforcement officers do not conduct interrogations with such extreme care.  If any do.

So this this defense, in and of itself, isn’t as laughable as (more…)

Why Innocent People Confess

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

It should come as no surprise to anyone with any experience in criminal law that perfectly innocent people will sometimes confess to crimes they did not commit.  Perhaps they were in a suggestible state, and the police led them to believe they’d done it.  Maybe they were broken by the interrogation and said whatever the cops wanted to hear, just to end it.  Maybe they didn’t really confess, but had their words taken out of context (or invented) by the cops.  (For tips on defending cases involving a confession, see our CLE lecture over at West Legal Ed Center.)

In recent years, there has been growing attention to the phenomenon of false confessions, and folks have begun investigating the reasons why an innocent person will not only confess to a crime he didn’t commit, but will often do so with such detail that it seems impossible for them not to have committed it.  The New York Times had a decent article yesterday on this very phenomenon.  The article reports on a study by UVA (wahoowa!) law professor Brandon Garrett, into reasons why an innocent person may sometimes confess with extraordinary detail.

To defense lawyers, the new research is eye opening. “In the past, if somebody confessed, that was the end,” said Peter J. Neufeld, a founder of the Innocence Project, an organization based in Manhattan. “You couldn’t imagine going forward.”

The notion that such detailed confessions might be deemed voluntary because the defendants were not beaten or coerced suggests that courts should not simply look at whether confessions are voluntary, Mr. Neufeld said. “They should look at (more…)