Monthly Archives: August 2016

Effect of Wrongful Confessions

While it is good that innocent people were eventually freed, this event often occurred after the defendant had spent years or decades incarcerated. While law enforcement officers may convince a person that if he or she confesses to the crime that he or she is accused of that the law enforcement officer may let the defendant go, a confession usually results in the individual being arrested. From there, he or she is thrust into criminal proceedings. Things can quickly spiral out of control and no one may believe the defendant’s later proclamation that he or she is really innocent. Sometimes it is simply too late after a confession to back pedal. Law enforcement officers may honestly believe that the defendant is guilty because he or she has confessed and may look no further for the real perpetrator of the crime. There is no way of knowing how many people behind bars are really innocent even though they confessed to a crime.

Reasons for False Confessions

The conditions involved in interrogating suspects may result in false confessions. Law enforcement officers often use influential interrogation techniques that may intimidate suspects to say what they believe law enforcement wants to hear even if these statements are not true.

Many interrogations are often physically and emotionally exhausting. At the end of such experiences, often suspects simply want to return home. In one recent exoneration case, the female suspect was denied food and water during the 27-hour long interrogation. She was also verbally threatened and physically pushed. Ultimately, she confessed to the murder of her son.

In a documentary series, a young suspect with a low IQ was continuously promised that he would be able to go home if he just admitted to what police said they already knew. He changed his version of events until detectives were satisfied with it. In the summer of 2016, his confession was thrown out as being involuntary.

Regulation of Interrogation Methods

Law enforcement officers have a lot of leeway when it comes to their interrogation techniques. They are constitutionally allowed to lie to suspects. However, the high number of exonerations that were caused by false confessions suggests that interrogation techniques must be carefully scrutinized. Law enforcement officers should not engage in inhumane treatment such as prohibiting a suspect to eat, drink water or use the facilities for hours on end. Additionally, law enforcement officers should not try to physically intimidate suspects or physically assault them.

To avoid the possibility of receiving false confessions, many police departments institute special training programs that teach law enforcement officers how to properly conduct interrogations without stepping over legal bounds.

Legal Assistance

Individuals may have a difficult time believing that someone may confess to a crime that he or she did not commit. However, many of these same people have never been under the pressure and scrutiny of a police interrogation. When facing a police interrogation, it is important that the defendant seek immediate legal assistance to protect his or her rights and to avoid making a false confession. It is far easier not to say anything than to say the wrong thing and then try to recant later on.

The Problem with Expensive Bail

Bail is often established at an amount that makes it very difficult for people to pay. Over two thirds of people who are currently behind bars are not individuals who have been convicted of crimes. Instead, they are people who are waiting for trial. Bail may not have been ordered in some cases. However, in other situations these individuals simply cannot afford to make bail. This means that many innocent people are locked up for months or even years simply because of the inability to pay for bail.

What Bail Is

Bail is the amount of money that a criminal defendant pays to convince the court that he or she will return to trial. If the defendant does not appear as necessary, he or she may be imprisoned.

When Bail Is Paid

Bail is usually set at a defendant’s first court appearance after he or she is arrested and brought up on charges. This may be at the arraignment or at a separate bail hearing.

Standards

Many courts order an amount of bail based on procedure. For example, they may order $1,000 for petty misdemeanors or $100,000 for serious felonies. However, judges do not have to adhere to such standards and may make bail higher or lower than the standard amount. In some cases, a judge may decide to release someone on their own recognizance. The amount of bail is often based on individual circumstances.

How Bail Is Set

The judge sets bail. He or she considers a number of factors. A primary consideration is the seriousness of the charges. Additionally, the judge tries to determine if the defendant is a flight risk based on whether or not he or she has a job, family or ties to the community. A judge may also consider the defendant’s past criminal record including any instances of failing to appear to necessary court hearings.

There may be additional individual considerations, including the defendant having an outstanding warrant in another jurisdiction. The judge may keep such a defendant in custody instead of granting bail so that the other jurisdiction can complete extradition proceedings.

Options when Bail Is a Problem

If the defendant cannot pay the amount of bail ordered, there may be several options including:

Request Lower Bail Amount

A defendant may request a lower bail amount through his or her criminal defense lawyer. This may be successful if the ordered bail amount is excessive and may impose an economic hardship on the defendant. Such request may be made at an arraignment or bail hearing, depending on the procedures of the state and court. However, for this request to be fulfilled, the judge has to decide to do this at his or her discretion.

Use a Bail Bondsman

A bail bondsman may be able to help fill in the gap when bail is expensive. When a person uses a bail bondsman service, the bail bondman puts up the entire amount of bail on behalf of the defendant and charges the defendant a certain percentage of the total bond, commonly 10 percent of the bail amount. This ties the bail bondsman to the case because he or she will lose the money put up for the defendant if he or she fails to show up for court.

Putting Up Collateral

A defendant may be able to put up collateral to secure the cost of a bond, such as real estate, a valuable car or other property of value. When liquidating assets would be difficult or not sensible, placing the items as collateral can help secure the bail without having to actually sell the asset.

Guilty Plea Be Withdrawn

What Exactly Is a Plea Agreement?

A plea agreement is a proctored agreement between the prosecutor and the criminal defendant. In exchange for agreeing to plead guilty to an offense, the prosecutor usually agrees to some concession, such as dropping some charges, reducing charges or recommending a lighter sentence.

When Is a Plea Entered?

It is important to understand when a plea is entered to know when a plea agreement may be possible. A person may make a plea of guilty or not guilty at an arraignment. This is typically the second time that a criminal defendant has appeared before the judge and are usually scheduled within 30 days from the first appearance.

Can a Guilty Plea Be Withdrawn?

A guilty plea cannot usually be withdrawn. However, there are some exceptions. For example, if false promises or coercion was involved, the defendant may be able to change his or her plea. Because a guilty plea usually requires a defendant to provide a basic account of what occurred and a defendant to declare that he or she voluntarily and knowingly made the plea, it can be difficult for a criminal defendant to convince the court of being able to change his or plea when this information is already in the record.

Can a Not Guilty Plea Be Withdrawn?
In contrast, a criminal defendant can usually withdraw a not guilty plea at any point in the process, including from the very beginning of the case to right before the jury reads their verdict. For this reason, many criminal defendants often plead not guilty at arraignment and then change the plea to guilty after reaching a favorable plea agreement.

Who Decides Whether the Defendant Pleads Guilty or Not Guilty?

The criminal defendant has the right to determine whether to plead guilty or not guilty. While his or her lawyer may provide advice about which way he or she should plead, the defendant has the ultimate decision.

When Can a Plea Bargain Be Made?

A plea bargain may be made at any point in the process before the jury reaches a verdict. However, the most common time for a plea bargain to be made is after the arraignment but before the pre-trial hearing. However, a plea bargain may be made after a key event in the process, such as a motion being ruled in favor of the prosecution or the defendant. If a key witness becomes unavailable or recounts his or her story, a plea bargain may be made.