Treatment of Mentally Ill Individuals in Custodial Settings: Custodial Interrogation

Police conduct with 18-year-old with Intellectual Disability is coercive under “totality of the circumstances”, rendering confession inadmissible

United States v. Preston, 751 F.3d 1008, 1010 (9th Cir. 2014)

The 9th Circuit, sitting en banc, held that under the totality of the circumstances, including the eighteen-year-old defendant's intellectual disability, a confession that resulted from police questioning was involuntarily given and should not have been admitted at trial. In reaching this decision, the court overruled Derrick v. Peterson, 924 F.2d 813 (9th Cir.1991) as well as subsequent cases relying on it, which had held that individual characteristics are “relevant to our due process inquiry only if we first conclude that the police's conduct was coercive.”

The court divided its initial inquiry into two categories—defendant’s reduced mental capacity and the techniques used during the interrogation. As to the first category, the court found that the intellectually impaired have a demonstrated increased vulnerability to coercion. The court also relied on scholarly assessment of common traits of intellectually disabled persons that may make them more susceptible to coercive interrogation techniques and then used those traits to inform their analysis of the techniques used to question the defendant, noting that “[A]s interrogators have turned to more subtle forms of psychological persuasion, and away from physical coercion, courts have found the mental condition of the defendant a more significant factor in the ‘voluntariness' calculus.”

The court based its totality of the circumstances inquiry into the coercive nature of the interrogation on several factors: (1) defendant's severe intellectual impairment, (2) repetitive questioning and the threats that questioning would continue without end, (3) pressure placed on the defendant to adopt certain responses, (4) the use of alternative questions that assumed defendant’s culpability, (5) the officers' multiple deceptions about how the statement would be used, (6) suggestive questioning that provided details of the alleged crime, and (7) false promises of leniency and confidentiality.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 1