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Interrogation and Identification: A Suspect's Rights

Interrogation and Confessions

Police interrogation is an unavoidable part of the criminal justice system. Police must be able to properly identify and interrogate arrested suspects in order to provide the prosecution with enough solid evidence to press formal charges. Courts have long recognized, however, that despite its necessity, the high-pressure nature of police questioning and identification after arrest can often lead to bad information and coerced confessions. Witnesses may succumb to the powers of suggestion, and suspects may tell police what they want to hear because of fear and intimidation. The Constitution protects individuals against abuse in the criminal justice system, and courts have buttressed those rights with rules designed to protect the truth of confessions and identifications obtained while a suspect is in custody.

Courts have long held that a suspect’s confession must be “voluntary” — in other words, not coerced.

To determine whether a confession was voluntary, courts will look at whether or not there was physical abuse, whether threats were made, the length of questioning, how isolated the suspect was and whether the suspect was denied the right to have counsel present. Courts also consider the age, intelligence, and level of education of the suspect and the suspect’s general health.

By requiring the police to give Miranda warnings before beginning a custodial interrogation, courts went a long way to better ensuring the quality of confessions. Police are required to inform suspects of their right to remain silent and their right to have an attorney present before beginning any interrogation performed while in custody. The Miranda warnings are designed specifically to protect the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination; it follows that if people know and understand these rights, then information they give the police should be more reliable in its truthfulness.

Identifying A Suspect

During the course of a post-arrest detention, police use several methods to properly identify a suspect. The following identification tactics are not protected by the Constitution: fingerprinting, photographing, taking measurements, having the suspect provide a handwriting sample, having a suspect speak out loud, and even collecting a blood sample. Police can use any of these methods to properly identify a suspect without violating his Constitutional rights.

Appearing in a line-up, however, does trigger Constitutional protection. Once a suspect appears in a line-up for witness identification, he has the right to have an attorney present. This stems from the Sixth Amendment right of an individual to confront witnesses. The theory behind this requirement is that in order to be able to challenge the reliability of a witness identification at trial, the suspect (by way of his or her attorney) must be able to reconstruct the circumstances of the line-up. A person can always waive this right, as long as the waiver itself is “knowing and intelligent.”

Any of the identification procedures mentioned above can be challenged on due process grounds. The standard courts use to determine the reliability of an identification is whether the situation was “unnecessarily suggestive and conducive to irreparable mistaken identification.” For example, the police can’t make a suspect stand out in a line-up by having him be significantly taller or shorter than the other participants, or by being the only person wearing the type of clothing worn during the commission of the crime.

Laws related to an individual’s rights once in custody do not vary widely from state to state. However, having an attorney specializing in criminal law present at every stage of a criminal case is crucial in ensuring that a suspect’s rights are being adequately represented.

Preparing to Meet With a Criminal Defense Attorney

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Preparing to Meet With a Criminal Defense Attorney

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