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Coerced Confession: Ninth District Holds that Police Deception Rendered a Confession Involuntary

By: Megan Patituce

Police can lie with near impunity.  This is a reality that criminal defense attorneys regularly face, especially while reviewing a client’s alleged admission.  However, in a recent decision, the Ninth District shut down coercive police interrogation tactics that involved lies and omissions.  State v. Wilson, 9th Dist. Summit No. 29227, 2019-Ohio-5099 (Dec. 11, 2019).

            Wilson’s niece made allegations of consensual sexual conduct between the two.  Although his niece was an adult, law enforcement established that she was intellectually disabled.  After speaking with the niece, the detective did what any good detective would and called Wilson in for an interview at which time Wilson denied the allegations entirely.  Undeterred, the detective surged ahead, assuring Wilson that:

  • There was no criminal matter;
  • His niece had claimed the activity was consensual;
  • They just needed to corroborate his niece’s story;
  • The case would avoid a lengthy investigation once the stories were consistent;
  • They were unconcerned with consensual sexual activity;
  • They knew the niece was an adult who could make her own choices;
  • It was not rape.

Eventually Wilson relented and made some admissions.  Unsurprisingly, this resulted in his indictment for rape.

            At the suppression hearing, the detective admitted using a “deceitful interview technique,” explaining that although she knew the conduct was criminal due to the niece’s intellectual disability, she wanted Wilson to believe it was consensual.  The trial court, citing to the detective’s numerous statements indicating there would be no criminal liability, found the detective’s behavior to be coercive.  The state appealed, but the Ninth District agreed. 

            Although Wilson was advised he was free to leave, the Ninth District held that the detective’s coercive conduct was so egregious as to render the confession involuntary.  The state has a few days left to seek review with the Ohio Supreme Court, but in the meantime, the Ninth District’s decision establishing boundaries on the extent to which law enforcement can deceive individuals into confessing is a step in the right direction for justice.

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