Foreword By Janet Napolitano, Governor of Arizona
Table of Contents
  Miranda's Confession
  Right to Counsel
  Privilege Against Self-Incrimination
  Miranda and the Arizona Supreme Court
  Birth of the Miranda Warnings
  John Frank as Architect of the Miranda Doctrine
  John Flynn's Oral  Argument at the Supreme Court
  Gary Nelson's Oral Argument for Arizona
  Thurgood Marshall's Oral  Argument at the Supreme Court
  The Opinion
  The Miranda Warnings
  The Ongoing Debate
  The Dickerson Case
  Miranda's Global Reach

Miranda and the al Qaeda Terror

  Padilla and Hamdi
  False Confessions and the Tuscson Four
  Political Ideology and the Supreme Court
  Dickerson's Legacy
  Gideon's Legacy
  The Evolution of Miranda


from Chapter 8

False Confessions, the Temple Murder Case, and the Tucson Four

Excerpts from pages 155-158

Psychologists and sociologists recognize three distinct types of false confession. A voluntary false confession occurs when a suspect falsely confesses to a crime without influence from others. The most common situation that explains voluntary false confessions is mental abnormality. Mentally defective individuals tend to offer confessions in countless high-profile crimes.

Another type of false confession, called “coerced-compliant,” usually occurs when the suspect feels he must avoid duress or seeks to benefit from the confession. Long interrogations conducted late at night or on the promise of a favorable plea bargain account for many coerced-compliant false confessions.

The third type of voluntary false confession, the “coerced-internalized false confession,” invariably involves police coercion. Instead of confessing to get out of an undesirable situation or to tie down a lenient plea bargain, the suspect unconsciously incorporates into his own memory the information given to him during police interrogation. Consequently, the suspect comes to believe he is truly responsible for the crime, notwithstanding the fact that no initial memory of the crime ever existed. The psychology literature suggests that these coerced-internalized memories can last for days or weeks, depending on the length of police interrogation.

False confessions derive from several psychological conditions. A suspect may feel guilty about something he has done or failed to do, something completely unrelated to the crime in question. A suspect’s ability to reason may be impaired by drug addiction, or he may be unduly frightened of the police or possess a disordered or inadequate personality. Some suspects simply can’t resist the notoriety they know will result from confessing to a high-profile crime.

The frequency of false confessions is a vigorously debated question in the legal world. An even more complicated question arises in trying to determine how many wrongful convictions are based on false confessions. Estimates range from a low of 35 to a high of 840 annually.

In August of 1991 nine bodies were discovered inside the Wat Promkunaram Buddhist Temple in the desert near Phoenix. The victims, including six Buddhist monks, lay face down in a circle, each shot in the head. Based on forensic science, the Maricopa County sheriff’s department quickly identified the murder weapon as a Marlin Model 60, .22-caliber rifle. The rifle was not found but the make, model, and caliber were clear from crime-scene evidence.

A few weeks later, in September 1991, an anonymous tip implicated four young Tucson men. The Maricopa County sheriff’s office immediately arrested them and subjected each one to lengthy questioning. All four confessed, in writing, to the Temple murders. Then they talked to their parents and their lawyers. The next day they recanted their confessions and professed their innocence.

In October 1991, while the men, now dubbed the “Tucson Four” were still in jail, Maricopa County sheriff’s deputies located the murder weapon in Phoenix. Its owner identified it as such, but denied involvement in the crime, and told the deputies that two young Phoenix men had borrowed his rifle shortly before the murders.

One of the young men, a seventeen-year-old juvenile, was advised of his Miranda rights but told the deputies he wanted to talk to them without an attorney and without his parents present. His interrogation began at 9:25 in the evening. Two and one-half hours later, he made “inculpatory statements, and after approximately four more hours of questioning, admitted to being at the temple on the night of the murders.” His interrogation lasted for almost thirteen consecutive hours without significant breaks. He implicated four other Phoenix juveniles, but not the Tucson Four already in custody.

It was ultimately revealed that the sheriff’s focus on the Tucson Four had begun when one of them, a mental patient, called the police and falsely confessed. The other three young men, actually innocent, had broken down under interrogation and confessed to the killings. The prosecutor described the investigation of the Tucson Four as “bungled” by the sheriff’s office.

The Tucson Four, having recanted their confessions and professed their innocence, were released after three months of incarceration. They promptly filed wrongful-arrest civil suits against the sheriff’s office. In September 1994, the Tucson Four accepted a $2.8 million dollar out-of-court settlement offered by Maricopa County.

One of the Phoenix juveniles accepted a plea bargain that saved him from the death penalty, conditioned on his agreement to testify against the man who had implicated him in the first confession.

Following a media-intensive trial, the 17-year old defendant who confessed after waiving his rights was convicted of felony murder, but the jury rejected the charge of premediated murder. He appealed his conviction on multiple grounds, including that his confession was coerced and that, like those given by the Tucson Four, was false. He also argued that his confession was false because it had been extracted by the same interrogators, who had used on him the same technique that they had used to extract false confessions from the Tucson Four.  His conviction and sentence of 281 years in the Arizona State Penitentiary were affirmed by the Arizona Court of Appeals. Arizona’s Supreme Court denied review and the United States Supreme Court rejected his petition for a writ of certiorari on June 16, 1997.

In the Temple Murder case, the interrogators secured six confessions from juveniles after securing waivers of their Miranda rights. All six recanted their confessions. Four of those confessions were indisputably false.  Of course, not all false confessions are the product of police misconduct. However, when police misconduct cases are evaluated on a national scale, it appears that 42 percent of the cases involve allegations of undue suggestiveness in pretrial identification procedures and coerced confessions arising out of custodial interrogation.



Miranda: The Story of America's Right to Remain Silent
Copyright © 2004, Gary L. Stuart. All rights reserved.
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page last revised: 10/25/04