Many people probably read news stories or see TV shows where criminal suspects get off the hook based on some kind of "technicality", where frustrated officers and prosecutors are left behind shaking their proverbial fists at the broken justice system. A recent appellate case out of California shows that there exists a flip-side to the coin, and that law enforcement's hands might not be quite as tied down as people may think when it comes to trickery.
The case in California involved a serious offense, a shooting murder that was committed outside a Jack In The Box restaurant and AM/PM. During the police investigation into the murder, they ended up interviewing then-suspect and eventual defendant, Darious Antoine Mays, about his involvement. He denied any involvement in the shooting and apparently repeatedly asked to take a lie detector test. However, the police had a problem on their hands because they had no polygraph examiner available just then. They could have asked him to come back, of course, but that would mean letting him go ... so instead what police did was stage an entire fake lie detector test. They didn't hold back on the theatrics either, apparently, and the court described it as follows:
"the police placed on [Mays's] body patches connected to wires, pretended to administer a lie detector test, fabricated written test results, showed defendant the fake results, and told him the results showed he failed the test."
At that point, police went ahead and suggested that "perhaps defendant failed because he was present during the crime and felt some guilt about that." Well, in short, the defendant then proceeded to make some damaging admissions, which were videotaped and eventually played back during his trial. And yes, Darious Mays, got convicted of first degree murder.
The court of appeals rejected Mays's claims that the jury should never have heard the tape of his statements. The bottom line was that there was nothing "involuntary" about the defendant's statements in this case, nor was the police subterfuge "coercive" in nature. In short, Mays could have, but didn't invoke his right to remain silent or an attorney, and police were under no obligation to be forthcoming with him particularly considering the other evidence they had already gathered against him, plus the fact that he kept asking for the lie detector test. That said, the court specifically left unanswered what it would have decided had police been the ones to suggest a polygraph... Below are some links to some more interesting, amusing, and/or scary examples (depending on your point of view) of other instances of police trickery.
- Opinion in the case [PDF] (FindLaw)
- AP: Police trick suspect into giving DNA, get conviction
- Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Ruse to get suspect's DNA upheld -- 'very scary,' privacy expert says
- Why You Never Waive Your Right to Remain Silent (provided by Paul D. Cramm)
- Criminal Law Center (FindLaw)
- Your Rights in the Criminal Justice System (FindLaw)