The False Confession: Determining if a Statement is Voluntarily Made

Why would somebody ever confess to a crime that they didn’t commit? The average person would not believe that a “false confession” is something that ever occurs, but the reality is that criminal defendants’ admit to crimes they did not commit regularly. In Michigan, the argument on the voluntariness of a confession is explained in “The Walker Hearing.”

The “Walker Hearing” is an evidentiary hearing to determine the voluntariness of the defendant’s statement. Common allegations are the defendant coerced, drunk, intimidated or mentally incapacitated. In the state of Michigan, 3 elements must be presented for a statement to be deemed appropriate. Those statements that the statements were made: Knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily. To discuss the issues of false confessions and how the “Walker Hearing” is addressed in the Michigan criminal justice system, we have received commentary from several criminal defense attorneys that have addressed this issue on a routine basis.

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and has created a team that is known as the top criminal defense firm in the state of Michigan. When asked about the “Walker Hearing” and the issue of false confessions, Grabel stated, “There are several reasons that an innocent person makes a false statement. The obvious is police intimidation, but the discussion goes further than that alone. Sometimes a defendant is looking for fame, sometimes we are dealing with an issue of mental incapacity, and sometimes they are protecting a loved one. A false confession is not a black and white issue but instead a very vague proposition, but it is one that is often overlooked in our Circuit Courts but addressed with fairness at the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates in Lansing, Michigan. Amadeo has quickly built a reputation as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in the state of Michigan. When asked about false confessions, Amadeo provided commentary when he said, “The whole topic is a frustrating issue. If we look at the Amicus Brief in the “Kowalski” case, we find that those that commit false confessions are still convicted at a rate of 75%. In the “Exoneration Database” at the University of Michigan, 15% of those cases are ones that stemmed from false confessions. Most judges will not suppress a statement at a “Walker Hearing” regardless of the facts, and it is our job to preserve an appeal and bring in an expert to explain the confession. I would say that 20% of my cases involve confessions and it is a challenge that the defense counsel needs to be ready to go to battle over.”

Joe Brugnoli is one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. When asked about the false confession, Brugnoli was quoted as saying, “A defendant should always have their lawyer present when speaking to the police. A good criminal defense attorney can fight through the issue, but it is always advisable to invoke your 6th Amendment right to counsel before ever discussing a criminal prosecution with a government actor.”

The issue of the false confession is a disturbing one. The tug of war exists between police coercion and an actual admission. Without an explanation for why disclosure was made, the defendant faces an uphill battle, as a criminal defense attorney, it is our job to defend those that cannot protect themselves. The false confession is an issue which echoes this point.

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