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Pierce v. State: Can Police Lie to Obtain a Confession?

It has been conventional wisdom for many years that police are allowed to lie to obtain incriminating statements against a defendant. For instance, during interrogation, police can tell the accused that an eyewitness has identified him as the person who committed the crime. Police also commonly and falsely claim that a co-defendant has confessed and implicated the defendant in the crime. Under the reasoning of the recently decided Pierce v. State, FLW (Fla. 1st DCA, June 6, 2017), however, police cannot misstate the application of Miranda v. Arizona to obtain a confession.

The facts of Pierce were not complicated. Prior to questioning Mr. Pierce, and during the course of warning him about his Miranda rights, the police advised him, "O.K., so it can't hurt you to talk with me but it's up to you" and indicated that talking to police could, in fact, benefit him. After giving a statement which implicated him in a crime, Mr. Pierce was arrested. At trial, the statements made by him as the result of the police interrogation were admitted at trial and he was convicted.

On appeal, the First District held that this misstatement rendered Mr. Pierce's confession inadmissible. The court agreed that misrepresentations made by police during a custodial interrogation are typically permissible. It held, however, that because the questioning officer was untruthful about how his statement would be used, Mr. Pierce's waiver of his Miranda rights was not voluntary. The court held:

While it is true that a suspect need not be given all the information that "might" affect his decision to confess and that police do not have to supply a defendant "with a flow of information to help him calibrate his self-interest in deciding whether to speak or stand by his rights," Moran, 475 U.S. at 422, it is also true that a waiver is not voluntarily and knowingly made if police have affected the ability of the suspect to understand the nature of the rights he is waiving. A waiver is not valid unless a suspect, "at all times knew he could stand mute and request a lawyer, and that he was aware of the State's intention to use his statements to secure a conviction." Id. As Pierce's waiver was procured by a misstatement as to effect of his waiver, it was not valid.

The net effect of this decision is clear. In seeking to obtain a confession, a police officer may not intimidate, coerce, or deceive a suspect, nor may that officer "merely inadvertently" misstate Miranda. Rather, in order to establish that the defendant's Miranda rights were knowingly and voluntarily made, the State must establish: 1. That the waiver was a free choice and was not the product of police intimidation, coercion, or deception; and 2. That the waiver was made with a full awareness of the nature and the consequences of the rights given up. Because Mr. Pierce's waiver was obtained as the result of a misstatement as to the effect of his waiver, his statements should not have been admitted at trial and his conviction was reversed.

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Sheppard, White, Kachergus, & DeMaggio, P.A. Attorneys & Counselors at Law.
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