Why Was this Defendant’s Confession Deemed Inadmissible?
Make no mistake. It’s never a good idea to confess to anything when you’re facing criminal charges. Meanwhile, the fact that a defendant admits to a crime doesn’t always lead to a conviction. Truth be told, there are all types of reasons that a defendant’s confession may be deemed inadmissible. In some instances, this may mean the case ends in an acquittal.
When you are accused of a crime in the United States, the Constitution says you are entitled to a fair trial. With that in mind, it is critical to retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. Many factors come into play when it comes to entering evidence against you in any type of criminal matter.
Just about everyone has seen some version of a television drama series that involves the police illegally obtaining evidence. For example, New Jersey is not alone in requiring search warrants based on probable cause factors. By that same token, law enforcement officials must follow specific guidelines in securing confessions from defendants.
The New Jersey Appellate Division recently considered the methods used to obtain a defendant’s confession in an unpublished decision. The case concerns a non-citizen facing conviction for sexual assault charges.
Confession Was Involuntary
State v. Hernandez-Escobar was decided by the New Jersey Appellate Division on October 15, 2018. There is a notation from the court that it is an unpublished decision and does not constitute precedent – therefore making it only binding on the parties named in the case.
Carlos Hernandez-Escobar was taken into custody and interrogated on charges he inappropriately touched his pre-teen sister-in-law. According to the case history, Carlos is a non-citizen from Guatemala. It is not clear if he is an undocumented immigrant or has his green card. Although Carlos speaks English, Spanish is his first language.
The interrogation was conducted in English and Spanish by three police officers, one of whom was able to communicate with the defendant in his native language. It appears that the questioning went on for more than two hours with Carlos making no admissions concerning the sexual assault of his wife’s sister.
However, something critical surfaced during the interrogation. Carlos was extremely fearful of deportation and potential separation from his wife and children. He shared information concerning the fate of a friend who was forced to leave the United States.
While admitting that she was not part of the “deportation police,” one of the interrogating officers characterized deportation as the “worst-case scenario.” She also asked the defendant if his worry that he could be asked to leave the country was the reason he was not being honest in admitting that he inappropriately touched his young sister-in-law. Carlos nodded in the affirmative.
The interrogation took a different twist with a focus on the defendant’s fears. For starters, the Spanish speaking officer suggested that Carlos and his deported friend’s situation were different. Additionally, she encouraged Carlos to think of deportation as the “extreme” in his case. The officer further assured the defendant that she did not want to go to the extreme.
As the interrogation continued, Carlos was again urged to tell his side of his story. Was it that he made a mistake? Was it possible that he was under the influence of alcohol? The police officer suggested this was the defendant’s “last chance” to come clean as she did not want to report that Carlos simply did not remember.
When Carlos asked if he would be immediately incarcerated, the interrogating officer didn’t provide an answer. Instead, she told the defendant that his admissions would “help him…in the future.” As long as Carlos supplied his version of the events, the insinuation was that he would be entitled to enter a program designed to help people with uncontrollable sexual problems. The officer also acknowledged that Carlos was a “hard-working man.”
After this portion of the interview, Carlos admitted to touching the preteen and responded to further questioning. Nonetheless, the court suppressed the admissions.
Upon review, the trial court (and the Appellate Division affirmed) that the interrogating officers gave Carlos the impression that he would be able to go home as long as he provided the requested statement. The officers also insinuated that Carlos would not be deported and instead, would be eligible for a rehabilitation program.
In affirming the lower court’s decision, the Appellate Division wrote: “The record supports the court’s conclusion that the defendant’s will was overborne by the detectives’ immigration-related statements, along with the assurances that defendant would help himself and receive treatment if he confessed.”