What is a coerced confession?

Question: What is a coerced confession?

Answer: A coerced confession is a confession that’s not voluntary. So, even if somebody waives their Miranda rights and agrees to submit to a police interrogation, there are certain standards that the police must follow in order for the confession or the admission or the statement to be considered voluntary. There’s really extreme examples of police pointing a gun at someone or threatening to literally beat them up in the interrogation room if they don’t confess; I mean, obviously that would be a very extreme example of a coerced confession. But there’s more subtle techniques that police use that are considered improper.

One is to threaten people, to say, “If you don’t confess, I’m going to arrest your wife, I’m going to arrest your family, I’m going to go to the newspaper and basically make sure that a very embarrassing story about you is highly publicized.” So it would be improper to make threats like that to compel someone to make a confession. Sometimes the police make promises. “Look, I’m going to talk to the DA, I’m going to see that no charges are filed, I’m going to see that the case is dismissed, you won’t go to jail.” And oftentimes, those are promises and assurances that really are untrue, but they would often compel a person to make an admission—even an innocent person, sometimes, to make a confession or an admission—that is not really voluntary.

There’s other situations that I’ve seen many times where a suspect has to go to the bathroom and has to go very bad and they’re in the interrogation room. The police won’t let them use the restroom until they make an admission. Or maybe they’re very thirsty, they’re very hungry and they’re denied water or food until they make an admission or a confession. All of these would be considered improper police techniques, even if the suspect waived their rights and agreed to the interrogation. So all of those would sort of fall under the umbrella of what would be considered a coerced confession or an involuntary confession.

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