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Court Reverses Exclusion of Confession

A confession can be important evidence in a criminal case. But a confession from the accused is only admissible if it is voluntary. A statement from the accused which a court determines has been coerced by law enforcement authorities will be excluded from evidence. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Woods, M2014-00194-CCA-R9-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 10-31-2014), the trial court had determined a confession to have been coerced by promises of leniency. That ruling was reversed on an interlocutory appeal by the state. The Court of Criminal Appeals determined the finding to be in error and reversed the ruling, thereby allowing the state to use the evidence at the upcoming trial.

In the Woods case, the defendant was charged with aggravated rape. The eighteen-year old defendant was arrested, handcuffed, and interviewed by a police officer inside an unmarked police car parked at the defendant's residence. The defendant was properly advised of his rights and was informed he would be processed and would have to make bond prior to being released. During the interview, the police officer advised the defendant that it would be best for him to tell the truth, that the truth would set him "free," and that he would receive "some help and some counseling" if he committed the offense. The police officer told the defendant he was "the type of person society wants to see rehabilitated" and "wants to help." The defendant agreed to be interviewed and initially denied the allegations. After further encouragement from the police officer, the defendant eventually made incriminating acknowledgments.

Though the trial court found the statements to be be coerced by promises of leniency, the Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed. The Court of Criminal Appeals noted the defendant had not been in custody long before making the statements, was properly advised of his rights, was not impaired, and was not abused or threatened. The Court further noted that the police officer's comments did not suggest that the defendant would only get help if he confessed or suggest that he would not be arrested. The police officer had explained to the defendant that he would not be released prior to making bond. The confession was voluntary.

For more information on the admissibility of incriminating statement of an accused in a criminal case, contact Hindman & Associates.

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