The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives criminal defendants certain rights. These include the right to remain silent during a criminal investigation, the choice to not testify at a trial, a prohibition against someone being tried twice for the same crime called the double jeopardy clause, and other provisions.
For the purposes of analyzing police misconduct, the sections about a defendant being able to remain silent are the most relevant. The American criminal justice system is arranged so that the burden to prove a case is entirely on the government, and a defendant does not have to provide information that will assist in that process at all. This is also commonly called the privilege against self-incrimination, and it is the reason why police are required to tell suspects that they have the right to remain silent through Miranda warnings during an arrest. Any statements given to police without proper Miranda warnings can be excluded from the evidence introduced at a trial for the crime.
Why is the Fifth Amendment relevant to police brutality?
One common way that police abuse this process is by trying to get individuals to give confessions of a crime. Police are often pressured to show results through convictions, and once they have a suspect in custody they can use extreme measures to get people to admit to criminal activity. This is done through coercion, deception, or sheer force in some cases. Research over the last couple of decades has shown that a number of people have been incarcerated due to admitting to crimes that they did not actually commit. In some extreme cases, victims are detained in interrogation rooms for hours without access to a lawyer and beaten or tortured by police.
An example of how police abuse their power to get people to confess
A large scale scandal in Chicago involved police using tactics such as electric shock and suffocation to coerce confessions out of more than 120 victims from the 1970s through the 1990s. From 2015 through 2016 this story became a human rights issue and the city agreed to pay reparations to a number of the victims. Some of the damage done by the officers involved included at least 11 false confessions of murder obtained during this period, and the innocent men spent a collective 110 years in prison before being exonerated.
One of the victims of torture spent four and a half years in jail after being forced to confess to crimes over the course of 36 hours of mistreatment and interrogation in 1995. His attorney filed claims against the city for false arrest and malicious prosecution which eventually settled for $250,000. Most of the officers involved in planning and executing this scandal were never disciplined by their department or charged criminally.
What can be done about false confessions?
In situations where police did not follow proper procedures to obtain a confession, a criminal defense lawyer can have this evidence excluded by filing a motion to suppress the statements. In cases of more severe misconduct and illegal behavior, it is possible to file a civil lawsuit against the police for deprivations of civil rights, use of force, false arrest, or other claims. Because it is now common knowledge that police interrogation tactics are likely to produce false confessions, there are a number of options available for lawyers who want to help exonerate the falsely accused.
Get help from a police brutality lawyer
If you believe that police forced a confession out of you through violence or any other improper means, there is legal help available. A lawyer who specializes in police brutality claims can explain the specifics of how to repair the damage done by a false confession and file a lawsuit against the police.