What Happens If You Confess to a Crime After an Illegal Arrest or Search?

Incriminating statements that come from unlawful police conduct are often inadmissible in court.

Evidence that the police find through an illegal search is normally kept out of court. For example, if the police randomly stop a woman on the street, rummage through her pockets, and find a bottle of someone else’s prescription drugs, evidence of the narcotics will likely be inadmissible if she gets charged.

So, what’s the rule where the evidence isn’t an intangible object, but rather an incriminating statement? For instance, suppose the police arrest the woman and give her the Miranda warnings, and she confesses to stealing the pills. Would the statement, in addition to the drugs, have to be suppressed?

Confessions as Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that even a confession that comes after the Miranda warnings will be inadmissible (considered “fruit of the poisonous tree”) if it’s the product of an illegal arrest.

The issue in this kind of case is how closely related the incriminating statement and arrest are. Relevant considerations include:

  • how soon after the arrest the confession is
  • whether any circumstances intervened between the arrest and the statement, and
  • the purpose and “flagrancy” of the police misconduct.

(Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590 (1975).)

If the connection between the arrest and the statement isn’t strong enough, the defendant’s words will normally be fair game. A court might find, for example, that the link between an illegal arrest and a confession has been sufficiently weakened if the suspect had been released from jail, talked to a lawyer, and come back to the police station to confess. In that kind of scenario, a judge would probably allow the defendant’s admission into evidence.

Illegal Arrests and Searches

In a 2010 case, the Supreme Court of Colorado noted that SCOTUS had laid out the rule for cases involving illegal arrests but hadn’t “directly addressed the issue of confessions resulting from illegal searches.” The state high court observed that it’s nevertheless settled that confessions “where a defendant was present at [an illegal] search and then confesses to the evidence discovered” are not admissible. (Perez v. People, 231 P.3d 957 (Colo. 2010).)

Consulting a Lawyer

Search-and-seizure law is complex, and can vary somewhat from one state to another. Make sure to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney if you have a case. A lawyer can explain the law as it applies to your situation. For example, a lawyer should be able to explain the rule where the police had probable cause for an arrest but were supposed to get a warrant and didn’t.

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