Wise men have said that “confession of sins is good for the soul.” In a religious or family setting, this is certainly true. However, in the world of criminal justice, offering confessions or admissions of guilt to an investigator can have lifelong consequences.
Historically, in Georgia, a confession has been regarded as a voluntary admission of guilt of every essential element of a crime involved, without including any legal excuse or justification. In order to be admissible in court, the confession must have been made voluntarily, without being induced by another with the slightest hope of benefit or remotest fear of injury.
In practice, confessions are usually made after a defendant has been arrested. The investigating officer will sometimes want to obtain a statement from the defendant about the alleged crime. The proper procedure is for the officer to inform the defendant of his or her Miranda rights before questioning the defendant. The defendant must legally waive his rights, including the right to have an attorney present, before making a statement.
As you can imagine, over the years there have been much litigation in the area of confessions. The main issue usually surrounds whether the defendant truly understood his or her rights and/or validly waived them.
But, I want to share some real life, practical considerations in this important area of criminal law. First, law enforcement officers are permitted to approach a defendant in custody and request a statement. This is perfectly fine and good officers will often do this. Oftentimes, a solidly obtained confession will solve a criminal case, but also seal the fate of a defendant. Case closed.
I have learned over the years to take the issue of police interviews on a case by case basis. Based on my experience, I generally advise clients not to speak with anyone about their case. This can include family members, friends, and especially law enforcement. A suspect should never make a statement without his or her lawyer present. The right to have a lawyer present during a police interview is an important Constitutional right that must always be asserted if an interview takes place.
Defendants being questioned without counsel in the room can make some very simple mistakes just by the way that they use words in response to a question. But, these simple mistakes, sometimes made by people with limited education, can often assist a prosecutor in sending them off to the state prison.
While some lawyers would never allow their clients to speak to law enforcement, I have developed a different view. On somewhat rare occasions, it is in the best interest of a defendant to speak with law enforcement about their case. This, of course, must always take place with the attorney present, question guidelines firmly understood, and a very deep level of trust between the officer and the defense attorney. There must also be a reasonable expectation of the possible benefit of such a meeting.
Admittedly, this is a risky move. That is why rarely takes place. However, tactics and strategy sometimes lead a lawyer to make decisions that involve a higher level of risk. Again, the overriding concern is the level of trust between the attorney and the officer and what can be gained from the interview.
Confessions, admissions, and cooperation with law enforcement are part of everyday life in the world of criminal justice. The main point to remember is that your lawyer must be involved in every aspect of a criminal case. This is particularly true when dealing with the treacherous territory of custodial statements to police.