Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Feb 6, 2012

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To be admissible in court, a defendant statement must be knowing, intelligent, and voluntary. What constitutes such a statement has been the subject of much debate throughout the legal system, and is generally decided by the courts on a case-by-case basis. Generally, however, the United States Supreme Court has developed a test that courts can apply to determine the voluntary nature of a particular defendant statement.

Supreme Court Test to Assess Defendant Statements

According to the Supreme Court, if the statement is the result of the defendant’s free and unconstrained choice, if indeed, he has “willed to confess,” then his confession can be used against him. If, however, his will has been overborne and his ability for self-judgment seriously impaired, then the defendant’s statement must be suppressed. When applying this test, a court is compelled to look to the totality of the circumstances, weighing factors such as the defendant’s age, education and intelligence, and relative sophistication with respect to the criminal justice system.

The court also looks at the length of the interrogation, deprivation of food, water or sleep, physical punishment or his knowledge of his right to remain silent to see if the statement was voluntary. No single factor, in and of itself, is determinative of whether or not a statement is voluntary, but rather a thorough scrutiny of all the factors surrounding the entire interrogation is necessary to resolve the question. Only when all of the factors have been weighed will a court be able to rule as to the voluntary or involuntary nature of a particular statement.

Since this test was developed, courts have used it to make distinctions between the kinds of lying the interrogating officer makes to induce a confession in order to determine whether or not it is voluntary. When the officer’s lies pertain to intrinsic factors like those involving the suspect’s connection to the crime, any confession will be admissible. However, when the lies involve extrinsic factors that are unrelated to the suspect’s connection to the crime and which tend to effect his ability to make a free choice, the defendant statement will be suppressed.

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Police Officer Responsibility in Obtaining a Defendant Statement

In the end, a police officer can lie to you to get you to make a statement. But in doing so, he or she needs to be careful concerning the nature of the lies or actions may make the statement taken from you inadmissible.