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Tainted confessions end up in long prison sentences

Posted on October 06, 2010 3:00 AM EST

Many defendants that have been sentenced to long prison sentences on sexual battery and rape charges based on alleged confessions made to law enforcement officers. The advent of DNA evidence in recent years has revealed that defendants have been sentenced to lengthy prison sentences based on the strength of tainted confessions in many cases. While any Miami criminal attorney will tell you never to make any statements to law enforcement, some individuals either do not follow the simple instruction of do not have the mental capacity to withstand questioning by the police.

A recent study out of the University of Virginia revealed that in 250 rape and murder cases where the defendants were eventually exonerated as a result of DNA testing, 40 individuals had confessed to a crime or crimes they did not commit. Three examples of recently exonerated, wrongfully accused defendants convicted of violent crimes come out of Broward County. Don't kid yourself, defendants charged in Miami-Dade County and across the State of Florida are doing hard time for crimes they did not commit. The lucky defendants are the ones that are released because DNA existed to prove their innocence. Crime scene technicians try to collect DNA from crimes scenes that involve homicides and sexually motivated offenses. However, crime scene technicians are rarely called out to burglary of auto theft scenes. While these crimes are not a serious per se as murder and rape charges, convictions for these types of charges can land certain types of offenders in prison for up to forty years.

Many career criminal statutes have been passed over the last couple of decades to put away defendants with extensive criminal records. Enhanced sentences can and will be handed down by state criminal judges for defendants that are classified as habitual offenders, violent habitual offenders, violent career criminals and prisoner release re-offenders. These enhancement are used to double prison sentences and even carry minimum mandatory sentences. For example a defendant convicted of a dwelling burglary that is classified as a violent career criminal can be sentenced to 40 years in prison with a 30 year minimum mandatory. A first time offender is likely to receive probation for the same type of offense. The problem is that defendants sentenced to lengthy sentences for lesser felonies do not have DNA to exonerate them.

Many burglary cases are made on the strength of a confession provided by defendant. No DNA evidence, eyewitnesses, or physical evidence of any kind are required to prove the case. The prosecution can prove a burglary case with an admission and the fact that a burglary was committed. That is certainly not much evidence to put a person behind bars for forty years. A skilled Miami criminal lawyer must be able to convince a jury that many confessions and admissions are obtained through coercion, threats or force. Cases with oral confessions are certainly easier to defend that cases where taped confession have been taken by the police. Again, the best advice to any arrested for any crimes is to invoke one's right to remain silent and the right to have any attorney present for questioning. Take advantage of your rights and do not make the case against you any stronger than it already is.

Report: Broward County Not Alone in Coaxing Confessions, The Miami Herald.com, September 19, 2010.
Categories: Sentencing