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“I‘m not lying!”
December 10, 2011 8:25 PM   Subscribe

This past August a murder charge was dismissed against Nga Truong, a young mother who had confessed to Worcester, MA Police interrogators in 2008 that she had smothered and killed her 13 month-old baby, Khyle. A judge later concluded that confession was coerced -- extracted in part by police "deception," "trickery and implied promises" -- and the case was dropped. (pdf). Her case raises questions: What coercive power do detectives have who are driven to extract confessions? Under what circumstances might someone admit to a crime they have not committed? WBUR (Boston's NPR station) investigated Truong's case and has an extensive report, Anatomy of a Bad Confession: Part One and Two

Truong spent 2.5 years in jail awaiting trial. She was 16 when she was arrested and is now 20.

Video excerpts from the interrogation. Reporter David Boeri's additional opinions on the case and police interrogation techniques. (videos)

Worcester Police Department statement on the case
posted by zarq (28 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
How to turn red into black.
posted by timsteil at 8:30 PM on December 10, 2011 [9 favorites]


This is why all interrogations should be videotaped. It's required in some jurisdictions now, but not enough of them. Enough, by the way, would be "all."
posted by devinemissk at 8:51 PM on December 10, 2011 [20 favorites]


Setting aside the moral issue (do we really want to be part of the kind of society that executes people?) this is the other reason why capital punishment is indefensible. Our criminal justice system simply doesn't produce results that are trustworthy enough to stake a human life on. How many Nga Truongs are in prison, or dead, without aggressive lawyers or enterprising NPR reporters to back them up? How many Kevin Pageaus and John Dohertys "continue to perform their duties as investigators with the full support and confidence of the police administration?"
posted by haltingproblemsolved at 9:02 PM on December 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


she's lucky she was 16, otherwise the police would likely have gotten away with it.
posted by facetious at 9:03 PM on December 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


These type of stories need to be told. Shouted.
posted by pianomover at 9:25 PM on December 10, 2011


No idea about this case but it is Constitutionally permissible for detectives to lie to you about facts during interrogation: "We got Johnny in the other room and he's saying you pulled the trigger."
posted by Ironmouth at 10:41 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of Frontline's story about how police pressured four innocent men into confessing to murder.
posted by problemspace at 12:00 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think I remember a study where the researchers tried to convince study participants to confess to minor incidents within the study that they didn't actually do. Using modern interrogation techniques, they were able to convince something like 40% of participants to make false confessions.

The truly insidious thing about it is that the police don't always mean to do anything wrong (you don't have to be violent or abusive) and in some cases, you can actually make the suspect honestly doubt their innocence. The techniques used have a lot in common with the 'recovered memory' techniques that actually turned out to be planting false memories.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:03 AM on December 11, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thanks Zarq, good pieces. Sad, I would think this is pretty common, and were she not sixteen at the time would never have come to light.
posted by smoke at 1:05 AM on December 11, 2011


I can't concieve of a situation in the UK where a 16 year old kid being interrogated in respect of a murder wouldn't have legal representation present -- if, for no other reason than it makes any eventual conviction that much more secure.

Does legal aid in the US not cover interrogations?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:52 AM on December 11, 2011


Never EVER talk to the cops, under any circumstances, w/out a lawyer. End of discussion.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:54 AM on December 11, 2011 [12 favorites]


I can't concieve of a situation in the UK where a 16 year old kid being interrogated in respect of a murder wouldn't have legal representation present -- if, for no other reason than it makes any eventual conviction that much more secure.

Does legal aid in the US not cover interrogations?
You don't have to talk to the police without a lawyer present if you don't want too, but you have to ask for it.
posted by delmoi at 2:31 AM on December 11, 2011


I was once in a situation where I was invited to the police station and then interrogated for a crime I did not commit. It was a truly terrifying experience, as the facts of the matter made me look quite suspicious. The police used all kinds of scare/intimidation tactics such as "we know you were involved", "you were implicated by a witness", they brought out a "voice-stress analysis machine", hooked me up and then told me I was lying, and basically convinced me that I was going to go to prison for quite a few years no matter what. I could easily see how someone in that position might opt to take a deal for reduced time in exchange for a confession, especially if they were young or didn't know the legal system well. It's easy to sit back and give advice about these situations, but when you are in an interrogation room as a young adult, the police can easily make you believe the rest of your life hangs in the balance of their good graces. As for me, I realized the police were full of it when they told me they had video evidence that showed my involvement. I asked them if I was being arrested (I wasn't) and told them that the next time they wanted to talk with a lawyer would be present. Never heard from them again.
posted by sophist at 3:44 AM on December 11, 2011 [10 favorites]


Also, police don't have to read you the Miranda warning or mention anything about lawyers until you have actually been arrested. What many people do not realize is that even in the heat of a police interrogation, you are free to leave at any time unless you have been placed under arrest. The police will often make you believe your cooperation is required under penalty of law ("We're going to need you to come down to the station...") by placing you in an interrogation room and creating an oppressive atmosphere, and you might think they would tackle you to the ground if you tried to leave, but that isn't how the law works.
posted by sophist at 3:56 AM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


...it is Constitutionally permissible for detectives to lie to you about facts during interrogation...

However, lying to the police is a crime. Don't talk to them at all, except to say "I do not consent to a search" and "I will not answer any questions without my lawyer present."

...but when you are in an interrogation room as a young adult, the police can easily make you believe the rest of your life hangs in the balance of their good graces.

Do not let yourself be put in that room. If you say the second recommended sentence above, the police are not allowed to put you there.

Teach these things to your children; they are important to know.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:45 AM on December 11, 2011 [6 favorites]


Do not let yourself be put in that room. If you say the second recommended sentence above, the police are not allowed to put you there.

They absolutely can put you in an interrogation room without your lawyer present. They just can't question you. But, they can certainly have you sit alone for hours in an uncomfortable chair, in a tiny, cold/hot room waiting for said lawyer.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:03 AM on December 11, 2011


OK. Teach your children that, too, as part of the "police are not your friends" lesson.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:11 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't have to talk to the police without a lawyer present if you don't want too, but you have to ask for it.

That's mostly true in the UK as well, but it's unimaginable that British police would be interrogating someone under 18 for a crime as serious as murder without there being a lawyer present. Mostly because they want the conviction to actually hold up in court.

So while they might not prompt an adult in that regard, they'll generally go out of their way to find a lawyer for a kid charged with an extremely serious crime.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:14 AM on December 11, 2011


Of course, if said kid is nicked for shoplifting or selling dope, he's getting fucked around like the rest of us.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:15 AM on December 11, 2011


One thing I've always wondered about "investigative detentions" Or whatever that don't actually count as arrests: do they lock the door? Can you stand up and walk out if they leave you there too long? I've looked at a couple of SCOTUS cases on this, but I don't really understand how these distinctions cash out in practice.
posted by anotherpanacea at 6:45 AM on December 11, 2011


You have the right to remain silent - Homicide: Life on the Street

This clip is specifically about being interrogated after being arrested, but it applies to "coming down for questioning" as well. God, I miss this show.
posted by rtha at 7:13 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


No idea about this case but it is Constitutionally permissible for detectives to lie to you about facts during interrogation

That's discussed in the WBUR story; one retired detective/cop trainer says this:

“The court views all statements as to whether they were given voluntarily or coerced or not,” Powers explains. “One of the main factors that they look at is lying. And while they have never said flat out, ‘You cannot lie,’ it’s a real negative factor with the courts.”

Worse than one lie, Powers says, is two lies. In the case of Pageau and his fellow detective, John Doherty, the quiet man here who largely plays the role of good cop, the lies come in a stream.

posted by mediareport at 8:22 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


"In an opinion that harshly criticizes the tactics of the police and prosecutors, an Illinois appellate court on Friday night reversed the conviction of Juan Rivera, who has spent 19 years in jail for the 1992 rape and murder of an 11-year-old baby sitter in a suburb of Chicago.

Mr. Rivera, who is 39 and serving a life sentence, has been convicted three times for killing the sitter, Holly Staker, based on the strength of a confession that was obtained after four days of questioning. There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, which occurred in Waukegan, Ill., and DNA testing in 2005 excluded him as the source of sperm found in Holly’s body."
posted by rtha at 10:05 AM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


You should be v. proud of your young adult self sophist -- yay, you.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:42 AM on December 11, 2011


10 say "Am I Under Arrest?";

20 say "May I Go Now?";

30 goto 10; # Lather, Rinse, Repeat -- Always Repeat...
posted by mikelieman at 10:51 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


A guide to police questioning, by a UK solicitor:
its-not-quite-like-the-bill
chat-or-interview

I am very often present whilst people are being booked in and the most common reason I hear for a solicitor being declined is: ‘I don’t need one, I haven’t done anything wrong’. The custody sergeant is not allowed to influence a detainee either way with regards to the obtaining of legal advice, and so will not give you any advice regarding your decision. My view is that the more innocent you are, the more important it is that you have a solicitor.
posted by wilko at 11:40 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The judge cites lots of MA specific precedent. Is this a local thing? It flies in the face of a lot of "police do crazy thing in interrogation, judge OKs" cases.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:53 PM on December 11, 2011


My view is that the more innocent you are, the more important it is that you have a solicitor.

But...Television has taught us time and again that the person who requests an attorney is ALWAYS guilty.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:07 AM on December 13, 2011


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