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Lawyers can be assets during police interrogation

When police are looking to catch a criminal, they may use certain tactics to persuade, coerce or scare a suspect into admitting a crime. There are limits to these tactics, though, and when they are deemed illegal, the resulting confession may be ruled inadmissible.

But in a sex crime case in which police did use interrogation and deception to retrieve a confession, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said the officers' strategies were acceptable and did not cross a line.

The 22-year-old suspect in the case was arrested following a 2007 incident in which he allegedly touched a 5-year-old girl in an inappropriate manner. Prior to his arrest, he agreed to be questioned by police. The man was interviewed for 80 minutes without being placed in custody and without being read his Miranda rights.

During the interview, police pushed him for information, bargaining with him in return for a confession of the sex crime. In addition, the interrogators said they had evidence of to the suspect's involvement and told him he could not make calls from jail if he were to be placed under arrest and put in jail, suggesting he wouldn't have access to a lawyer.

Finally, the suspect confessed and was released with a citation. But he was quickly arrested on charges of criminal sexual assault of a child in the first degree. The man asked for the removal of his statements to police due to their being involuntary, but the motion was denied. He was finally convicted of the crime after a jury trial that lasted four days, but the decision was appealed. He said he believes he was pressured to confess to the crime and that police took advantage of his inexperience and age.

However, the state Supreme Court is upholding the original conviction, saying that the resistance of the suspect was not exceeded by the police officers' interrogation tactics. The man's case speaks to the risks suspects face when being questioned by police without an attorney present.

Residents of Wisconsin who are afraid of being accused of a crime should contact an experienced lawyer before releasing any information to the police, no matter how informal the interview with authorities promises to be.

Source: State Bar of Wisconsin, "In Criminal Case, Supreme Court Upholds Confession Despite Alleged Police Coercion," Joe Forward, Jan. 9, 2013

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