Injustice permeates our criminal “justice” system. In theory, our system is not supposed to be an inquisitorial system, but the case law gives the lie to that claim on a daily basis. To be sure, some courts know how to “talk the talk.” The Court of Appeals in New York is one such court. As it said in People v. Anderson, 42 N.Y.2d 535 : “Ours is an adversarial . . . not an inquisitorial system.” Confessions are to be excluded when Miranda rules are violated (the rules are riddled with police-friendly interpretations that make a mockery of the original decision). Separate and apart from Miranda, a confession must be voluntary. As the Anderson Court explained, a confession is involuntary if it is coerced or otherwise unreliable on the issue of guilt or innocence or obtained or acquired under police methods “so extreme that they violate our notions of fundamental fairness.” The suggestion is that even if a confession is reliable, the police methods used to obtain it may contravene due process of law.
That is the talk. But you will search long and hard to find a case that tells the police they have gone too far independent of the confession’s reliability. Consider a case in New York, People v. May, 263 A.D.2d 215 (3d. Dept. 2000). After an automobile accident, the defendant was hospitalized for surgery on August 14, 1995 for repair of a scalp laceration, a right elbow laceration, a pelvic fracture, and treatment of a skin tear in his groin area. On August 15 he received morphine injections at 12:10 A.M., 1:10 A.M., 5:15 A.M., 9:40 A.M., 11:00 A.M. and 12:30 P.M.
State police investigators interviewed the defendant at 4:40 A.M., 8:45 A.M. and 12:00 noon on that day. One might think that a person recovering from surgery and in such pain that numerous morphine injections might be required should be insulated from police interrogation altogether, let alone at 4:40 A.M.! But the Third Department found that the incriminating admissions elicited by the police were fully voluntarily. After all, the Court determined that morphine might have made the defendant drowsy (you think), but did not make him delusional or cause him to hallucinate. Even assuming this made the defendant’s admissions reliable, I think police intruding upon the patient’s privacy in this way is a police method that goes way too far. The United States criminal “justice” system has a reputation for failing to respect the dignity of prisoners and those who are suspected of wrongdoing. That reputation is well deserved.