In Brief

Court should revisit case law allowing police to lie to suspects, justice says

By: - February 9, 2022 6:51 am

Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin (Courtesy of New Jersey Courts)

A New Jersey Supreme Court justice on Tuesday signaled the high court could re-examine case law that allows police interrogators to lie when questioning suspects.

After concurring with the court’s unanimous decision to overturn the conviction of a woman found guilty of assaulting an infant in her care, Justice Barry Albin said the court will eventually have to decide whether it should continue to allow officers to lie during interrogations.

A police detective who questioned the woman told her surveillance video captured her pulling on the child’s leg, throwing him, and hitting him. There was no video footage of the assault, but according to the court’s opinion, after the woman heard this, she admitted to the detective that she assaulted the child.

“When deceptive interrogation tactics are sanctioned by our courts, what is the lesson conveyed to the public — that law enforcement officers can lie to a suspect, but when a suspect lies to the police, it is a crime?” Albin wrote in his concurrence.

The court’s current guidance allows police to tell some lies during interrogations but bars them from contradicting a suspect’s Miranda Rights, meaning an officer cannot, for example, tell the subject of an interrogation that their answers will be used to aid them at trial.

Albin noted police lies during interrogations raise the risk of false and coerced confessions.

“False confessions can sometimes be the most significant evidence in a case, so they want to eradicate those,” Jeff Garrigan, a Jersey City criminal defense attorney, said in an interview. “I think Justice Albin makes a very good point that giving false information to a potential suspect in a case can overbear their will and ultimately increase the rate of false confessions.”

The justice said other courts have found the isolating nature of police interrogations has led to a “frighteningly high” number of false confessions even when interrogators do not use deceptive tactics.

“We have to determine whether sanctioning deception and trickery in the interrogation process offends judicial integrity and whether the cost of potentially eliciting false confessions outweighs the benefits of eliciting a number of true confessions,” Albin said.

The court overturned the woman’s conviction after finding the detective who interviewed her should have ceased the interrogation after the woman made reference to needing an attorney. The justices also found the trial court judge allowed for the introduction of inadmissible evidence.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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