Court: He who hesitates is lost, including police officers holding a murder suspect

The Supreme Judicial Court today tossed a Fall River man's murder confession because police waited too long to start asking him about the case while he was in custody.

The ruling, which reaffirms a 1996 ruling that set a six-hour maximum for obtaining a confession after a suspect is arrested, leaves Massachusetts at odds with most other states, which let police take longer if the "totality of the circumstances" warrants it.

Prosecutors pointed to the fact that the 1996 ruling was based in part on reasoning that other states have since abandoned. And they said that while the man was in custody for nine hours, he was originally arrested on a stolen-car charge and that the six-hour clock for the murder confession should only have started several hours later, when they started asking him specifically about the murder.

In its ruling, the state's highest court said the six-hour rule remains an effective way to ensure people are not simply held for long periods of time to try to wrest a confession out of them. It added police knew initially they really wanted the guy for murder, but had to wait for the district attorney to sign off on the charge and used the stolen-vehicle charge to hold him, so the six-hour clock started with his initial arrest.

But the court said setting a specific time limit also helps prosecutors and police:

Predictability is an asset to law enforcement, criminal defendants, prosecutors, judges, and others. ... Given that suspects may be arrested on any day of the week and at any time of day or night, in any location, and under myriad circumstances, setting a clear six-hour limit from the time of arrest provides specific guidance to police officers so that they can plan accordingly and know that, within the six-hour period, any delay will not be considered unreasonable. This is, indeed, a "safe harbor" for the Commonwealth. ... Beyond that six-hour limit, the rule ensures that criminal defendants will not be held for an unreasonably lengthy period without the benefit of the rights afforded to them under our Constitution, our common law, and our rules of criminal procedure. In this respect, it is a safe harbor for the defendant.

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    Comments

    No

    By on

    Prosecutors just can't use his confession against him.

    But he could very well be.

    I wonder if he also confessed to his lawyer, who is now doing his damnedest to sell everyone a lie and keep this guy out of jail. Of course, perhaps the guy was beaten or tortured by police -I don' t know.

    And not to beat a dead horse, but is it ethically permissible for defense attorneys to lie in pursuit of a "vigorous defense", if, for instance, they know for sure that the client is 100% guilty? I've never quite understood that part of our system.

    You cannot advise your client...

    ... or your witness to say something that you know is a lie under the uniform rules of legal ethics. If a lie (which you _know_ to be a lie) is told, you have to take steps to correct the record. If a lawyer doesn't -- and it is proved that he didn't do the right thing -- he can be looking at an instant career change. People gripe about lawyers, but it is one of the only professions where failure to meet ethical standards can involve loss of the right to engage in the profession.

    No, you're not supposed to lie

    By on

    Because at the same time as you're an advocate for your client, you're also an officer of the court, and the courts frown on lying.

    Based on a sample size of one (my father), defense lawyers tend to concentrate on giving their client the best possible defense without questioning whether or not the client is, in fact, guilty.

    so if a killer tells his

    By on

    so if a killer tells his lawyer he killed, what does the lawyer do? explain that to the court but come up with a defense as to way? or just play dumb/

    The lawyer can't disclose confidences...

    ...but also can't put his client on the stand and allow him to tell what is a _known_ lie. If a client makes it clear he intends to lie on the stand, the attorney may have to withdraw from representing that client.

    This is what makes a lawyer good

    By on

    Lying and not saying something are two completely things.

    If you cheated on your wife, you probably wouldn't tell her, but if you say that you are not cheating on her, that's a lie.

    Knocking down evidence, calling witnesses into question, these things don't entail claiming that your client is innocent when you know he is guilty. These things work to show that the prosecution has not proven that your client is guilty.

    And aren't you glad I'm not a lawyer.

    True

    When an attorney's client 'refuses to take the stand' it's possibly because the attorney doesn't want to be put in the position of being accused of 'suborning perjury' (see Law and Order, half the episodes), which as a commenter said, is a career changer.

    Having said that, in Massachusetts case law, you DO have the right to a fight to the death to determine guilt. In 'Lannister v Lannister' (271 Mass. 186, 171 NE 232) (This was a petition to vacate a judgement) it was held that you can choose a champion to fight under the old gods or the new.