Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
State v. Wakefield, 267 Kan. 116 (1999).
This case answers the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the first appearance before the magistrate?
- If I have made an incriminating statement during an unnecessary delay before my first appearance, can I still get the statement suppressed?
- Under what circumstances does a confession become involuntary?
The specific issue in this case includes whether the defendant’s statements and confessions should be suppressed because they were made during police interviews which occurred during a period of intentional delay before his first appearance before a magistrate. Id. at 123. The defendant further contends that had he been brought before a magistrate without delay, he would have appointed an attorney and thus not made the admissions that resulted in conviction. Id. The Court stated that the purpose of K.S.A.1998 Supp. 22-2901(1) was to safeguard individual rights. Id. at 124. This purpose has been achieved by the legislature through the process of ensuring that the appearance before the magistrate would occur without unnecessary delay, thus abolishing unlawful detention that “provides an opportunity for improper pressure by the police before the arrestee has been informed of his or her rights.” Id. Further, the delay has to prejudice the right of the accused to a fair trial. Id. at 125. The determination that a prejudicial delay has occurred depends on the facts and circumstance of each case. Id.
In the current case, the period between the arrest and the first appearance before the magistrate was two days. Id. at 123. While waiting for his first appearance, the police made false statements to the defendant that they had information and evidence that implicated him to the murder, and in addition, they also encouraged him to cooperate with the investigation because “they were just trying to help him.” Id. During this time, the defendant made three statements in which he progressively admitted to his participation in the crimes. Id. The Court first addressed whether the delay was necessary in this case. The Court concluded that due to the circumstances of this case the delay was necessary because the prosecutor needed to ascertain whether it was the defendant or the other individual involved in the crime who actually shot the victims. Id. at 124. This was due to the fact that the capital defender informed the prosecutor that he would only be defending the more culpable actor so that determination needed to be made first. Id. at 125.
The next determination to be made by the Court was whether the defendant was subjected to coercive law enforcement during the period of necessary delay that lead to the incriminating statements. Id. The Court stated that in order to make this determination, during the delay, the statements of the accused must have been compelled by pressure or threats. Id. When making the determination that a confession was made voluntarily, the court should look at the totality of the circumstances, including: (1) the duration and manner of the interrogation; (2) the accused’s ability upon request to communicate with the outside world; (3) the accused’s age, intellect, and background; and (4) the fairness of the officers in conducting the interrogation. Id. at 126. The Court held that as long as the defendant’s statements were the product of their own free and independent will, misrepresentations by the officers do not make a confession involuntary. Id. at 127. However, if the confession has been “extorted by fear or induced by hope of profit, benefit, or amelioration, it will be excluded as involuntary. … [T]he advice or admonition to the defendant to speak the truth, which does not import either a threat or benefit, will not make a following confession incompetent.” Id. at 128. The Court noted that if a “trial court conducts a full hearing on the admissibility of an extrajudicial statement … and determines the statement was freely and voluntarily given … an appellate court [should] accept that determination if it is supported by substantial competent evidence.” Id. at 126.
In the current case, the district judge concluded that there was no evidence to indicate that the statements made by the defendant were not made knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently. Id. at 125. The district judge furthered that the tactics used by the officers were “necessary tool[s], and so long as the officers don’t cross the line, it is effective and legal” and does not make the statements involuntary. Id. at 126. This Court reviewed the analysis by the trial court of the totality of circumstances that surrounded the admissions made by the defendant, in addition to the fact that the defendant did not allege that the officers threatened or made any unfulfilled promises to him, and thus concluded that the misrepresentations made by the officers during the interviews did not make the defendant’s confession involuntary. Id. at 128.