Wednesday, November 25, 2009

False Confessions Are Costly

We're informed today that a New York court has awarded $340,000 in damages to Ozem Goldwire. Goldwire is a developmentally disabled man who was induced to falsely confess that he'd murdered his sister after a 21 hour interrogation.

Goldwire was exonerated in 2007 after spending a year in jail waiting for trial. A psychiatrist's report indicated that Goldwire would probably have confessed to sinking the Lusitania, the Lindbergh kidnaping, and being the man behind the fence on the grassy knoll, had he been asked to do so.

You can read more about the autistic, scatterbrained Ozem Goldwire here.

The point is, if the point escapes you when you're questioning people who may be developmentally disabled or mentally ill, you need to do some regrooving.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Scott County Juvenile Gets New Trial: No Miranda.

State v. Bogan, no. 07-0660 (Iowa Nov. 6, 2009)

Bogan, a 14 year old from Rock Island, Illinois, was implicated in the death of Vincelina Howard in a drive by shooting in Davenport that was allegedly payback for a previous homicide in Rock Island. Four men were involved, of which three (Lobley, Millbrook, and White) have been convicted and are serving various and sundry prison sentences. It turned out that Howard was a bystander in the line of fire.

A chain of circumstantial evidence led police to Bogan.

Two Davenport detectives journeyed to Bogan's school in Rock Island to take his fingerprints and interview him. Bogan was pulled out of class and placed in the school office. When the Davenport contingent arrived they did not give Bogan the Miranda warning, and he gave what amounted to a statement-at which time he was arrested for the murder of Vincelina Howard.

Bogan argued that his statements to police should have been suppressed by the trial court because he was not given the Miranda warning prior to being interrogated. The question to be answered was whether Bogan was in custody, legally speaking, which would trigger Miranda.

The Court applied the four factor test set out in Iowa's State v. Miranda decision at 672 N.W.2d 753 (Iowa 2003) to evaluate custody, tanking into account the language used to summon the individual, the purpose, place and manner of the interrogation, the extent to which the defendant is confronted with evidence of his guilt, and whether the defendant is free to leave the place of questioning.

Bogan was removed from his class and taken to an area of the school office not generally open to the public. He was interviewed and then taken to an Illinois court for a hearing on the request to take his fingerprints. The Davenport detectives had instructed the Rock Island officers to hold Bogan at the school until a hearing could be had to get his fingerprints, which suggested that Bogan would not have been free to leave, had he asked.

This case seems to have been a close call, and it points to the importance of assessing whether a situation is custodial before serious questioning starts, particularly where juveniles are involved.

It also points to the utility of thanking people for their cooperation and saying "You can go. Do you need an officer to drive you home?" even if you're fixing to arrest that person when they get home. I was watching First 48 one night and a Memphis detective explained it this way: "If I let them walk out of the station under their own power they can hardly argue they were in custody." Words to consider.

Parenthetically, the family of the victim is well known in Scott County law enforcement circles, as Damien Howard was sentenced to life imprisonment this summer as a serial drug sales offender, the patriarch of the tribe also has done federal time for selling crack, and a brother, a half brother, and a cousin (Vincelina) were all murdered. Several of the family members are incarcerated for various and sundry crimes.

Photos courtesy QC Times.