Please See Below for a Transcript of the Video
Hi, I’m Richard Waring and I’m a criminal defense attorney in Charleston, SC. If you’ve been charged with a DUI, possession of marijuana or cocaine, trafficking, robbery, or some other crime, maybe you’ve confessed and are wondering, “am I doomed?”
First off, the 6th Amendment to the Constitution provides, in part, that you have the right to a jury trial in criminal cases. You have the right to be confronted by witnesses and you are entitled to put up your own witnesses as well as have the assistance of an attorney. This is all spelled out in the 6th Amendment. And, this relates to the concept that you are innocent until proven guilty. So, despite the fact that you think you confessed to a crime, that doesn’t mean you automatically get convicted. In general, if you decide to plead not guilty, the government still has to take the case to trial and put up the necessary witnesses in order to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (see my previous video on what beyond a reasonable doubt means).
And, that’s when a good criminal defense attorney becomes important. Because that defense attorney in Charleston, South Carolina or whatever county in South Carolina you’re in can object to your statement being used at your trial and can make a motion to ask for a pre-trial hearing to take place the day of trial in order to try to get your statement suppressed or thrown out. And, that hearing is called a Jackson v. Denno hearing and takes place without the jury being present. The Jackson v. Denno hearing almost serves as a mini trial. The government has to put up witnesses and question them to show the judge why you’re statement or confession should be admissible in your trial. Unlike a trial though, there are no opening statements or closing arguments.
Now, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Jackson v. Denno, that the government has to specifically prove in this pre-trial hearing that your statement was voluntarily given. Part of that involves proving that you understood your rights and voluntarily waived them before giving your statement or confession. All of this has to be established pre-trial before your statement can be used against you at trial. Usually the prosecutor puts up the police officer or detective who took your statement or otherwise interviewed you.
Often times, that is also the same officer who read you your Miranda rights (I’ll go through the details of what is covered in your Miranda rights in a separate video). Just briefly though, Miranda rights have to be read to you by the police officer when you are in custody and are subject to interrogation. And essentially you’re told that you have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and that anything you say can be used against you.
Whether or not you were in custody and were notified of your Miranda rights is usually a highly discussed topic at the pre-trial Jackson v. Denno hearing. And, often times, since most police agencies have you sign a document or card showing that you acknowledge that you understand the Miranda rights that are read to you, the prosecutor will pass that card to the officer at the pre-trial hearing and have him or her read what was read to you, which would be fuel the prosecutor’s argument that you voluntarily waived your rights before giving your statement.
If your statement in your interview was recorded, sometimes the prosecutor will play that audio or video recording to further prove that you voluntarily waived your rights before giving your statement and saying what otherwise might be considered a confession.
Now, in addition to everything I’ve already mentioned, there are a bunch of other factors the trial court will consider in determining whether you understood your rights and voluntarily waived them before giving your statement. Some of those factors include, your age and maturity level, your background in terms of education and experience, whether or not you have any mental defects, whether you were intoxicated at the time of your statement, whether you have any physical defects, how long the interview was and where it was located, whether or not there were any police misrepresentations, whether there were any threats of violence, whether you were promised any leniency in return for your confession, and whether you were deprived of food, water, or sleep. Usually, these factors, if applicable, will be discussed by the government’s witnesses in response to specific questions by the prosecutor.
After asking all of his or her questions, the prosecutor sits down and then your defense attorney gets to ask questions of the officer. Occasionally, a defense attorney will have a defendant testify, but it doesn’t always happen that way. You and your defense attorney will have to strategize what is best for you.
The prosecutor will then have to argue that he or she thinks your statement was voluntarily given and therefore should be ruled admissible, and your criminal defense attorney argues the opposite. The pre-trial Jackson v. Denno hearing is a major example of when it will be important to have a good criminal defense attorney. I worked with some great cops when I was a prosecutor. These men and women work hard every day to keep us all safe, and we should be thankful for that. But cops are humans. And, occasionally some parts of these procedures are overlooked. A good defense attorney will know what to look for.
Keep in mind that even if the trial judge agrees with the prosecutor at this pre-trial hearing and allows the government to use your statement against you at your trial, your criminal defense attorney can still argue to the jury that you’re statement wasn’t voluntary. And, then ultimately it will be up to the jury to decide whether it was in fact voluntary or not.
During the pre-trial hearing, if the judge disagrees with the prosecution and determines that your statement was involuntarily given, that means your statement or confession is suppressed. In other words, the prosecution can’t use your statement against you at trial.
Lastly, if the government decides on the front end not to use your statement in their case in chief (i.e. they don’t seek to introduce your statement at all through any of their witnesses during trial), if you decide to take the stand in your own defense and testify at some point in the trial, the government may nevertheless still be able to use your statement against you if you say something that is contrary or inconsistent to your original statement during cross-examination. Just something to keep in mind and something that you’re defense attorney will remind you of, if and when you take the stand.
Alright, so, now returning to the original question. In response to the original question of whether or not you’re doomed if you confessed to a crime, the answer is that it’s not guaranteed. If you have a good criminal defense attorney on your side, that’s your best hope of getting your statement suppressed.
OK, that’s it for now on the use of your confession or statements against you at trial. I hope you learned a little something about this topic. And, if you’re in the Charleston, South Carolina area or Lowcountry of South Carolina, feel free to give me a call anytime, and we can discuss your DUI, robbery, possession of marijuana, trafficking, or whatever crime you might be charged with. Having conducted numerous Jackson v. Denno pre-trial hearings and trials in general, I’ll know what to look for with regard to your own statement. Best of luck.
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