We’ve almost all seen it on TV. The police obtain a criminal suspect and place her in interrogation. Once there, the police use a full array of tactics, from encouragement to intimidation to empathy, seeking to get the testimony they need. Because the police officers are often the beloved stars of the show, the techniques they use almost end up being proper and permissible. In real life, it’s more complicated. Sometimes, the police may say things the law considers to be an “improper inducement.” When you can show that that happened to you, it may help you get potentially damaging evidence excluded from your case. Of course, the best way to ensure you are not being lured by police to make an incriminating statement in an interrogation setting is to make sure you have an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney by your side before you say anything to the police.
A.H. was a woman caught in that kind of situation as a suspect in a murder case. While questioning A.H., Baltimore police told the woman many things, including that “honesty is the best policy” and that “this is the honesty you need to stay with to stay out of big trouble.” The police also told her that she was “either going to be a witness or… a defendant,” but that if the woman was “straight up” then “we’ll work with you.”
At that point, A.H. revealed that she was a sex worker who was on an appointment with the victim at the time of the murder. A.H.’s crack dealer, E, instructed her to take the appointment and to “leave the door unlocked.” Because she feared E and because she thought E and his partner would, at most, beat up the victim, A.H. did as she was told. The victim ultimately died of multiple stab wounds. Based on A.H.’s statements, the state went to trial against her on robbery and homicide charges.
At trial, the woman’s attorney argued that all of the incriminating statements A.H. made to the police should be suppressed and the state disallowed from using them in its case. The Court of Special Appeals agreed with the defense.
Some of the things the police said (like “honesty is the best policy” and “this is the honesty you need to stay with to stay out of big trouble,”) were entirely permissible as mere “exhortations” to speak truthfully. Other statements the police made, however, went over the line.
When the police told A.H. that they could help her and that she would either be a witness or a defendant, they left a clear implication of an improper inducement. A “layperson” like A.H. could reasonably deduce from the statements the police made that, if she cooperated, they would offer her protection from E and his collaborator (both of whom allegedly were notorious gang members) and that her cooperation would be rewarded with a lesser criminal punishment or no prosecution at all. In direct response to those statements from the police, A.H. gave “inculpatory information” that was “at odds with her initial statement.” In other words, there was a clear connection between the improper promise and A.H.’s incriminating statement, so she was entitled to have the statement she made to police suppressed.
This suspect’s case is also a cautionary tale about talking to the police without counsel
A.H. was fortunate to have an effective presentation in her appeals case. One way she potentially could have avoided such a precarious position was to handle her situation differently from the start. Had she obtained counsel before she spoke to police, her attorney could have confirmed exactly what the police were – or were not – offering and then advise her properly about whether or not to make any statements to the police.
If you’re a lost child trying to find your home, the police are often your friend. If you’re a suspect in a murder, the police are not your friend. They are trained professionals and it is not their job to help you, but rather to get the suspect in front of them to divulge the information they want divulged. Make sure you have someone who is firmly in your corner before you talk to the police about a crime for which they suspect your involvement. Skilled Maryland criminal defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has many years of experience effectively representing people before, during and after their trials, is here to help you. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.