Promises of Leniency - Case of the Week #1

Rodney Squire v. State of Florida, 4D12-3320 Released 2/24/2016

Hi all, welcome back to my blog.  Hope you enjoyed the last post on Judge Singhal's recent mistrial ruling.  I got some nice positive feedback and I’m ready to get back on the horse and write another post.   Today’s post is (hopefully) going to be a once-a-week affair: the “case of the week”.  Each week I’ll choose one Florida District Court or Florida Supreme Court decision that I find particularly interesting or that is of exceptional importance to our practice. Again, these posts are written for consumption by the general public and are meant to be for educational purposes and do not constitute legal advice.

The main issue that I want to discuss in this case and the first one raised in the decision is: the admissibility of the defendant’s statement.   The reason I find this case interesting is that it is a perfect example of why a person may confess to a crime they didn’t commit. This a concept that many State Attorneys and District Attorneys fail to grasp. Imagine yourself in the situation this defendant faced: alone in an interview room with a detective, unrepresented by counsel, being told that you will face two attempted murder charges if you  deny the offense, or lesser robbery charges if you agree that it happened as the officer is telling you it did. Attempted First Degree Murder is punishable by up to life imprisonment. And in Florida a life sentence IS a life sentence. There is no parole hearing, there is no early release. The detectives knew what they were doing by dangling a lesser charge in front of Mr. Squire. This case illustrates a scenario that could easily generate a false confession.

Procedurally, the defense attorney filed a motion to suppress saying that the statement was made involuntarily and should be suppressed because the officer promised the defendant that if he cooperated he would not be charged with attempted murder and would instead only be charged with attempted robbery. In layman’s terms the attorney was trying to get the statement thrown out. The trial court said no and the defendant eventually filed an appeal.

The caselaw that applied to this case is fairly straightforward.  The trial court should suppress a statement when there has been an explicit or implicit promise made by the police to not fully prosecute an offense.  The officer’s statements that “you go to think about an attempted robbery or two attempted murders; which done do you want to face?” and “You’re going to go down on this one if you don’t play your cards right” could not have been a more clear promise of leniency in return for a confession.  While this may seem like a small promise, the District Courts have become increasingly skeptical of these police tactics and have been throwing out these statements no matter how slight the promise.  I would imagine that this move by the appellate courts comes from the substantial number of DNA exoneration cases that were originally based on false confessions (according to the innocence project, 1 in 4 exonerated defendants falsely confessed to the crime).   So, based on the caselaw, the appellate court ruled that defendant’s motion to suppress should have been granted and the case was remanded for a new trial, at which the confession will not be admitted. 

The bottom line is that the police ought to know better. The police don’t charge you with crimes; it is the State Attorney who decides when and what charges, if any, should be filed.  As always, if you find yourself in a situation such as this, always invoke your right to remain silent and your right to speak with an attorney.  

Until next week friends!  Thanks again for reading!
Matt.

Law Office of Matthew Glassman 600 SW 4th Avenue Fort Lauderdale, FL 33315