The American legal system can be confusing. Because police detectives have extensive experience interviewing witnesses, the criminal justice process also can be intimidating. If you are not careful, you may say something prosecutors can use against you at trial.
Before beginning a custodial interrogation, which is questioning that happens when you are not at liberty to leave, officers usually must advise you of your fundamental rights. These rights include your right to consult with an attorney and your right not to remain silent. For a variety of reasons, it is advisable to exercise these rights.
What is a confession?
A confession is a verbal or written statement that admits your guilt. Officers often perceive confessions to be the ultimate form of evidence. Still, detectives often have the upper hand when questioning criminal suspects. According to the Innocence Project, they can lie to you about many matters, keep you in an interrogation room for hours and otherwise make you feel uncomfortable.
Can the jury hear about your confession?
If you confess to a crime, you can expect a judge to consider whether prosecutors can introduce your confession at trial. Before allowing them to do so, the judge must determine if your confession was voluntary. The following factors may affect this:
- The length of time between your arrest and your confession
- Your age, intelligence and mental health
- Your knowledge of the criminal charges against you when you made your confession
- The advisement of your legal rights before questioning
- Your access to legal counsel
- Other relevant factors
Even if a judge decides to allow your confession, he or she should instruct the jury to give it the appropriate weight. Ultimately, if there is a problem with these instructions or the judge’s decision, you may have a valid reason to appeal your conviction.