Discarding evidence
February 16, 2002 8:07 PM   Subscribe

Discarding evidence because of a possible Miranda violation. Sure, Miranda serves a (good) purpose but are the scales of justice tipped a little too much in favor of the accused when the entire chain of evidence can be discarded because of a confession of a possibly dubious nature?
posted by owillis (16 comments total)
And if the entire chain of evidence was unearthed using law enforcement techniques of a possibly dubious nature? Give the Man an inch, he will take a mile. The law is there to force cops into doing what's right. Harassing someone into a confession is as at least old as the Spanish Inquisition; Miranda is supposed to prevent that technique of "law enforcement."
posted by tcobretti at 8:21 PM on February 16, 2002

Yes, it makes sense. This kind of ouch-ouch-ouch loss makes sure the police generally do a DAMN good job of reading rights. This one gets away, but you either have rights or you don't. It's not possible to kind-of tread on them.
posted by scarabic at 8:31 PM on February 16, 2002

Loosing the whole chain of evidence may be harsh, but it keeps police honest and the public, who bear the burden of risk when dangerous or destructive criminal is set free, from taking these kinds of abuses lightly.
posted by Nothing at 8:35 PM on February 16, 2002

Yep. Gotta protect those Miranda rights.

This recalls the film Red Heat, which contains one particularly poignant scene dealing with this subject.
posted by bingo at 8:40 PM on February 16, 2002

Yes, it's too easy for law enforcement to abuse their power (especially with regard to coerced confessions). Tight controls and repercussions are necessary to keep them in check.
posted by fleener at 8:47 PM on February 16, 2002

Once a suspect asks for a lawyer or invokes the right to remain silent, that should end the questioning. Otherwise situations like these happen, and if they retrieved evidence as a result of the confession, kiss it goodbye. That Yosemite case scared the hell out of me, and I'm horrified that the guy who did that may be freed. But I'm just as horrified at the police...they should know better.

It's a slippery slope, owillis. Miranda's there to protect all of us, and when you say, okay, we'll let this one slide, it cuts the legs out from under it and opens the door for police to do whatever they want to extract confessions.
posted by kittyloop at 8:55 PM on February 16, 2002

So is the solution to videotape whenever someone gives the Miranda oath and their confession? I see what you guys are saying, but then there are cases where the accused "claims" the confession was coerced - killing the evidence chain.

I must confess to being a little "wild west" when it comes to these things, in attitude. "He done it! String 'im up!"
posted by owillis at 8:57 PM on February 16, 2002

Confession of a possibly dubious nature

Shouldn't the burden be on the state to demonstrate that the nature of the confession is not dubious? If the state has no such burden, then why should the state pay any attention at all to Miranda, or the 4th, 5th, 6th or 14th amendments for that matter. The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine doesn't exist to protect the accused as much as to protect the yet to be accused.

The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution.

--preamble to the Bill of Rights.
posted by dchase at 9:28 PM on February 16, 2002

Miranda's there to protect all of us

I sure am.
(sorry. it's really difficult to resist.)
posted by mdn at 9:30 PM on February 16, 2002

Is there anybody in the US over the age of say 4 that can't recite the miranda warning verbatim after hearing it so many times on TV?

That asked, I'm always going to favor the state having less rights rather than more.
posted by willnot at 10:41 PM on February 16, 2002

Wow. Thought this issue was settled forever a couple of years ago when a U.S. Supreme Court with a conservative majority handed down an opinion in favor of Miranda. The effect of Miranda has been lessened or watered down or what have you over time anyway. But it's going to be around for a long time to come. Get used to it.
posted by raysmj at 1:52 AM on February 17, 2002

I must confess to being a little "wild west" when it comes to these things, in attitude. "He done it! String 'im up!"

The problem is when "he" didn't do it, but will say he did to escape harassment, protect someone else, or because he's a fruitcake. What the cops forget is that when we rush to judgement and the wrong person is punished (which happens much more frequently than you might think), the actual criminal gets away. Links on this topic. One county's wrongful convictions.
posted by tcobretti at 7:37 AM on February 17, 2002

One other thing to consider: this guy already confessed to another murder and has been sentenced to life without parole. Its not like he's going to walk because of this. He just won't fry.

posted by cleetus at 8:24 AM on February 17, 2002

are the scales of justice tipped a little too much in favor of the accused

How can the scales of justice ever tip "too far" in favor of people who are innocent until proven guilty?
posted by mdeatherage at 9:34 AM on February 17, 2002

are the scales of justice tipped a little too much in favor of the accused

To add a geekier addenum to mdeatherage's comment:

In any justice system you're going to have mistakes, guilty people will go free and innocent people will get put in jail (or worse, executed). I compare that to the scientific terms of sensitivity and specificity.

With something like a mammogram to detect breast cancer, sensitivity is the likelihood of missing an existing cancer (a false negative) and specificity is the likelihood of "finding" cancer when there is none (a false positive). The tests are getting more accurate in both senses, but often, if you increase the sensitivity of a test, you decrease the specificity, and vice versa.

I think the same is true in criminal justice. Any time you try to tighten the system so a guilty person won't go free in a situation like this, you also make it so more innocent people go to jail. You can work to make all the people in the system do their jobs better and more accurately, but if you're just looking at changing the laws and the rules, the only way to get fewer innocent people in jail is to make the rules so that more guilty people go free. If the justice system is more specific, it will be less sensitive.
posted by straight at 7:45 AM on February 18, 2002

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