The news has been recently plagued with reports about American police using torture as a means of extracting confessions for the crime of terrorism. Their only defense is that the strategy is effective. Locally, our own police have admitted to resorting to violence as a means of getting the same confessions.
The strategy of extracting confessions has not been limited to physical violence. The police have also resorted to the technique of keeping suspects locked up in a room where they are continuously interrogated. The questions start off subtly as mere questions of inquiry then slowly escalate to accusatory. By then, the suspects don’t know what hit them. Sometimes they fall into the trap of saying something self-incriminating without realizing it. Others are left mentally exhausted by the long hours of questioning that they fall into the trap of confessing – not because they committed the crime, but because they want the long hours of interrogation to end. That is torture in its more subtle form.
More often than not, the above strategies resorted to by the police backfire when the charges hit the courtroom. Such strategies overlook the legal safeguards to protect the accused. Such safeguards include the right of the accused to counsel, the constitutional right to due process and right against self-incrimination. Also, there is the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine which we will later discuss in more detail.
One of the Miranda rights require that an accused be informed of his right to counsel. The law further requires such a right be granted once an accused is singled out from other suspects. Once an accused is taken in for questioning, such an act qualifies as singling them out, and the police are obliged to inform the accused of their right to counsel or an attorney before they can question them further. Failure of the police to observe this procedure will leave any confession inadmissible in court because it was obtained in violation of the right of the accused. This is also known as the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine – any confession obtained illegally is inadmissible in court. In line with the right to counsel, the rational behind the law is to ascertain that an accused is made fully aware of the consequences of such a confession and to ascertain that the accused made the confession in his own free will after understanding the consequences. Therefore, a confession obtained without counsel is illegal because of the possibility that the accused did not understand the consequences of his or her actions.
The constitution also guarantees the right to due process and the right against self-incrimination. The right to due process means the prosecuting team, with the aid of the police, have the obligation to properly inform the accused of the charges against them, and give them the opportunity to defend themselves. The implication of the right against self-incrimination is that the prosecution has the burden of proving the crime was committed by the accused, and they cannot force the accused to come up with evidence to pin themselves to the crime. A confession induced by violence does exactly that – it pins the accused to the crime without the prosecution overcoming the burden of proving the accused committed the crime. Also, it goes without saying that a violence-induced confession does not give the accused the opportunity to defend themselves because the idea that they committed the crime is shoved down their throats.
In conclusion, the police force should reexamine their own procedures. They need to confront the question of whether or not police brutality is as effective as they think it is, or is it merely a strategy that expedites their investigation, but is a short term solution….so short that it doesn’t make it to the courtroom.