Truth is a funny thing.
Everyone thinks they’ve got it.
Scientists think they have it. Every religion thinks they have it. And, its a tad curious how psychedelic drugs cause their users to preach of new truths and perspectives.
For a hard core materialist, it won’t matter how believable an “experience” may be–its not real unless it can be scientifically verified. (Side Note: there’s some really odd complaints these days about the fact that falsification of a scientific theory isn’t as important as it used to be–but this is a story for another day)
Anyway, speaking of materialism, love is tough to prove. Even pain is tough to prove, doctors have to take your word for it. For some, it may be that mathematics contains more truth than the probabilistic sciences can deliver (for you statistics fans, isn’t it true that all of science can be reduced to probabilities?).
So, if there is such a thing as “truth” floating around out there, what are some reliable ways to find it?
In our court system, the jury decides what is true. We call them the “finders of fact”. We attorneys obtain a Juris Doctorate degree just to better navigate the filtration of what the jury can–or cannot–hear. the rule against presenting hearsay testimony, for example, keep rumors out of our quest for truth.
Florida’s criminal laws have lots of rules regarding confessions. Again, if we’re on a quest to discover the truth, what’s better than a confession, right? Well, it depends. If the confession comes after spending 10 hours with a few cops, can you really trust that confession? Our Supreme Court started laying down confession rules many years ago in Spano v. New York. 360 U.S. 315 (1959). Spano was suspected of murder but the cops couldn’t get him to talk, so they rounded up a close childhood friend, who then manipulated him into confessing. Yes, his confession was thrown out of court.
Surely, that sort of thing doesn’t happen today, does it?
Let’s review the recent case of Teachman v. State, 2019 Fla.App.LEXIS 1 (Fla. 1st DCA 2019). Teachman was convicted of molesting his 15 year old daughter, and the police were able to obtain a confession, sort of. During Teachman’s interrogation, the police informed him that charges were also coming against his wife, but “I think you can tell me the truth to keep her out of trouble.” id. at 6.
Florida law permits a bit of lying on the part of law enforcement, but there are rules. For example, investigators can, legally, tell a citizen that things “will be easier if you tell the truth.” This is, of course, never true. But, cops are allowed to say it.
That being said, when the government promises things to a citizen in exchange for a confession, such promises usually render the confession “involuntary”. In other words, we don’t like coerced confessions. For example, if you waterboard me for a few seconds, I’ll confess to killing JFK, even though I wasn’t born yet. Yes, a coerced confession gets you no closer to the truth.
The same can be said for promises. There’s a TV show that has a promise as it’s foundation, and this promise makes you question what’s true.
Ever watch the show 90 Day Fiance? Hopefully, you’re not one of those folks who responds to the question “Have You Seen….” by condescendingly proclaiming that you don’t even own a TV. It is true, however, that this isn’t one of those shows you talk about to impress people. The premise of 90 Day Fiance is simple–an American man or woman promises a foreigner that they’ll get US citizenship so long as they get married within 90 days of arriving in America.
As you may expect from a “mail order bride” situation, these American guys are promising citizenship to a girl half their age, and a girl from a poor county. Half the fun of the show is the fact that these guys do not paint an accurate picture of their lives here in the States. Shocking, right, that people don’t portray themselves accurately online?
Every young lady claims she is marrying the American man twice her age because “She Loves Him.” “They’re in love.” Yes, I’m using air quotes. The point is, do you trust that this woman is telling you the truth? After all, there’s a Big Promise riding on this. Full US Citizenship. Doesn’t the promise of citizenship make you question things?
The power of a “promise” is so overwhelming that our court system has made it a habit of not trusting confessions made under the umbrella of a promise. Any promise. The rule in Florida goes something like this: “it is well-settled that statements obtained through direct or implied promises are involuntary and, thus, inadmissible at trial.” Ramirez v. State, 15 So. 3d 852, 855 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009).
Now, back to Teachman. He has kids. He has a wife. And, he may be going to jail for a long time.
Whose going to raise these kids while Teachman is in prison?
Not his wife. Because the cops are arresting her too. Teachman’s kids are screwed. So is his wife.
But then, the cop throws Teachman a lifeline. “I think you can tell me the truth to keep her out of trouble. I’m not after her. I want to leave her out. The kids have got to have somebody . . . .” id. at 6.
Soon after the cop explains to Teachman that the wife doesn’t have to be arrested–and that the kids will have mom to raise them–Teachman confesses.
Do you trust this confession? I don’t. But, the trial judge trusted this confession so much that he let the jury hear it, and that’s why we have an appeal to talk about. Unfortunately, the appeals court made the wrong decision (as they often do on sex cases). The appellate court agreed that it was ok to let the jury hear this confession, even though a promise was made to get it. The court got around the rule against promise induced confessions by claiming that such a confession can still be “voluntary” if the promise didn’t induce the confession.
So, did the court provide any guidelines as to how to determine which promises will render a confession “involuntary”, and which are ok? No. But, I’ll tell you. Here’s my practical guide: (a) if its a sex case, the confession is probably voluntary, the jury’s going to hear it, because we have to convict this guy. (b) If the case is non-violent, say a misdemeanor driving while license suspended, the confession is probably involuntary and the confession will be thrown out.
Still, my practical guide doesn’t really tell you what renders a promise laden confession involuntary vs. voluntary. The court provides no guidance on this either, except that they’ve added an impossible hurdle for a defendant who seeks to exclude a confession due to a promissory inducement: this appellate court is looking for some sort of legal jargon from the defendant at the time of the confession that makes the reliance on the promise explicit. Their appellate opinion wants something like: “I only confessed to this because you promised me X, Y, and Z.”
Yes, this additional requirement was pulled out of thin air! Listen to what this court said “At the end of the interview, when the investigator asked if any promises were made in exchange for the confession, [Teachman] made no mention of leniency for his wife. . . .Accordingly, we reject [Teachman’s] argments that his confession was involuntarily obtained.”
Yes my friends. We have a new Rule of Law. A new Rule of Confession Admissibility. Every defendant must utter magic words, the likes of which would make Hogwarts proud. Specifically, this court added the requirement that defendant’s must waive a wand and recite “I made this confession in exchange for your promises” — then and only then will a confession be deemed “involuntary”. Yikes. I guess the old rule is out the window, for now.