The Court of Appeals recently in IN RE KA (No. 10-FS-1614, Feb. 2013) reversed K.A.’s weapons possession charges focusing on the governing legal principles of convictions based on confessions alone and the necessary corroboration in support thereof.
The Court reiterated the long established Supreme Court legal principle, which requires confession to be corroborated in order to “forestall convictions based on extrajudicial confessions the reliability of which is a matter of suspicion.”
Essentially in cases were conviction is based solely on a confession, self made statement, the government is required to introduce substantial independent evidence which would tend to establish the trustworthiness of the statement, such as forensic evidence or other independent testimony. The rule was established also to prevent false confession “induced by some inner compulsion” and to preserve the reliability and the integrity of the criminal system.
In this case the police officers entered an apartment occupied by K.A., his brother, and their grandfather on an anonymous tip that an individual with a certain description possessed weapons in the apartment. There were four other individuals in the apartment at the time. The grandfather allowed search of the apartment and underneath his mattress two weapons were discovered. The grandfather was handcuffed and due to an independent medical emergency an ambulance was called to assist the grandfather who was diabetic. While the grandfather was handcuffed in fragile health, the officers encouraged KA to confess to the ownership of the weapons to spare his grandfather. Eventually KA reluctantly admitted ownership by making a conclusory statement “man, they my guns. Take those things off him.” The confession was later repeated at the police station. However the Court did not find the confession to be reliable or corroborated independently. The Court reasoned that circumstances surrounding the confession were not sufficiently corroborative or reliable. The confession was made after repeated questioning of the officers while they had the medically fragile grandfather in handcuffs. The statement alone was conclusory. KA only described basis description color and shape of the weapons not make and model or the location there were to be found. The police officer had let another individual –who fit the description of the owner of the weapons based on the anonymous tip — leave the apartment and had not detained him. This was an important fact as the description provided by the tipster did not match KA. The government did not provide any other corroborating evidence such as prints, or other supporting forensic evidence.
The Court concluded in stating: while the corroboration rule does not require that the government prove all of the elements of the crime through independent evidence, it does require that the independent evidence be sufficient to make the confession worthy of an inference of truth. Here the confession was made in an inherently unreliable circumstances, produced by a significant amount of police pressure and what we reasonably conclude was K.A.’s desire to spare his visibly ill grandfather a criminal charge and a trip to jail.
The Law Offices of David Stein specializes in complex criminal litigation in which at times subtle legal nuances can be the difference between an acquittal or a conviction.