Sunday, February 17, 2008

I plead the fifth

That's what a murder suspect said during a police interrogation in California. He said it shortly after he'd told them he didn't want to talk to them anymore.

He didn't ask for a lawyer. In fact, earlier he'd explicitly told them he didn't need a lawyer. Then they interregated him for two hours. Then he decided he was finished talking to them.

The Supreme Court has made it pretty clear that police have to stop interregations when a suspect says he wants a lawyer or when a suspect no longer wants to talk to them. The not wanting to talk part is protected by the fifth amendment.

It's an important amendment, not just for protecting the rights of the accused but also for protecting justice itself. Most crime suspects aren't really very bright. The typical police interregation is two on one. Two guys of average intelligence mentally pounding on one guy of below average intelligence. Suspects get confused. Sometimes very confused. They make false confessions. They really do. Texas, Illinois, Mississippi, and New York are some of the states that have had recent released from prison in the news after people who'd confessed had been proven to have given false confessions. It happens more often than we want to beleive.

If he doesn't want to talk, you stop asking questions. That's it, that's the rule, and it's actually a good rule that protects the very concept of justice.

But, of course, the law always has exceptions. In this case one exception is that interrogators can ask clarifying questions if a suspect makes an ambigious statement about not wanting to talk any longer.

Is "I plead the fifth" ambigious.

Apprantly it is to at least two Federal Appeals Court judges. Most of the court did not find the statement ambigious and the conviction based on the coerced conviction was rightly overturned. But two of them did.

What the hell is the matter with these people? Does law school do something that causes people's brains to just be fried?

See also and this.


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