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When Is a Statement to Police Considered Involuntary?

Brief Synopsis: A statement to police, i.e., a confession, is considered involuntary when it is the product of unlawful coercion (threats, physical torture, mental duress, i..e.) and is thus inadmissible because its reliability and accuracy is suspect.  Also, public policy should not admit such statements because otherwise, admission of such a statement would encourage such police practices.
Confessions made to law enforcement that are the product of coercion are considered “involuntary” and are inadmissible. Colorado v. Connelly (1986) 479 U.S. 157, 107 S. Ct. 515.  There are three general reasons for this.  First, the statement is of doubtful reliability, so it would violate due process.  Lego v. Twomey (1972) 404 U.S. 477, 484, 92 S. Ct. 619; Columbe v. Connecticut (1961) 367 U.S. 568, 602, 81 S. Ct. 1860; People v Jimenez (1978) 21 Cal.3d 595, 602.

Second, even if true, the statement is a product of police using threats, physical torture, or mental duress and no government wants to encourage or enable police to engage in such conduct, period.
Third, the statement may not be accurate, as it may have been stated by the suspect just to stop the torture and may be fabricated out of necessity.

Consequently, an involuntary statement cannot be used against the accused in a criminal proceeding, including impeachment of the accused if he or she testifies inconsistently at trial.  Michigan v Harvey (1990) 494 U.S. 344, 351, 110 S. Ct. 1176; Mincey v. Arizona (1978) 437 U.S. 385, 398, 98 S. Ct. 2408; Cooper v. Dupnick (9th Cir. 1992) 963 F.2d 1230, 1250 (“Bluntly put, there is no such thing as an impeachment exception for compelled, coerced or involuntary statements”).
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Evidence that is the fruit of an involuntary confession is also inadmissible.  Evidence that is not directly obtained by illegal conduct may be admitted if the prosecution can show hat the connection between the primary illegality and the challenged evidence has “become so attenuated so as to dissipate the taint.”  Wong Sun v. U.S. (1963) 371 U.S. 471, 491, 83 S. Ct. 407; People v. Beardslee (1991) 53 Cal.3d 68, 108.

But what is an involuntary statement exactly?  One court, In re Cameron (1968) 68 Cal.2d 487, 498, defined it as a statement obtained from a defendant when his or her abilities to reason, comprehend or resist were so disabled that he or she was incapable of free or rational choice.  Put another way, a coerced confession is not “the product of a rational intellect and free will.”  Blackburn v. Alabama (1960) 361 U.S. 199, 208, 80 S. Ct. 274.

Both physical and psychological coercion are prohibited.  Blackburn, supra, at 206.  This is true despite a prior valid Miranda warning and then a waiver of such rights.  People v. James (1984) 157 Cal.App.3d 381, 385.
To determine the voluntariness of a statement, the “totality of the circumstances,” which includes both the characteristics of the accused and the details of the interrogation, must be considered.  Schneckloth v. Bustamonte (1973) 412 U.S. 218, 226, 93 S. Ct. 2041; People v. Maury (2003) 30 Cal.4th 342, 404. 

Specific examples of when a statement is voluntary or involuntary are helpful in this evaluation.  In the case of In re Cameron, supra, police administered medication to the suspect and the subsequent confession was ruled involuntary.  When the suspect himself of herself is drunk (voluntarily), intoxication alone does not make the suspect’s statements to police involuntary.  People v. Maury, supra.  Taking this one step further, the California Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected claims of incapacity or incompetence premised on voluntary intoxication when there is nothing in the record to indicate defendant did not understand his or her rights and questions of a Miranda warning.  People v. Doolin (2009) 45 Cal.4th 390.  Nonetheless, like other factors, voluntary intoxication can contribute to a finding that a statement is involuntary, especially if it is extreme and the police know about it and exploit it.  See People v. Montano (1991) 226 Cal.App.3d 914, 935.

Similarly, a statement can be found involuntary if defendant suffers from low intelligence, brain damage or mental illness and police take advantage of this in eliciting a statement.  See U.S. v. Preston (9th Cir. 2014) 751 F.3d 1008, 1027 (confession involuntary in light of defendant’s intellectual impairment combined with officers’ repetitive, threatening, suggestive, and deceptive questioning).

Likewise, governmental investigators may not use a suspect’s religious beliefs to manipulate a suspect into a certain statement.  People v. Montano, supra, at 935.

Depriving a suspect of sleep to induce a confession can also be sufficient for a judge to consider a statement made thereafter to police as not a statement made of one’s free will.  Clewis v. Texas (1967) 386 U.S. 707, 712, 87 S. Ct. 1338.

Perhaps the most common factor rendering a statement involuntary, however, are police threats or promises.  A confession is invalid if it results from an express or implied police threat.  People v. Brommel (1961) 56 Cal.2d 629, 632, overruled on other grounds in People v. Cahill (1993) 5 Cal.4th 478, 509, n17; People v. Jimenez (1978) 21 Cal.3d 595, 611 (a statement is involuntary if it is motivated by implied or express promises of benefits), overruled on other grounds in Cahill.

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