United States v. Preston

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 05-12-2014
  • Case #: 11-10511
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Judge Breson Presiding: Circuit Judges Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, and Stephen Reinhardt, John T. Noonan, Sidney R. Thomas, Susan P. Graber, Kim McLane Wardlaw, Ronald M. Gould, Richard A. Paez, Marsha S. Berzon, Morgan Christen and Paul J. Watford
  • Full Text Opinion

Police officers using coercive measures against a person who is mentally handicapped in order to determine if a crime has been committed violates constitutional rights because that confession is involuntary, thereby making the confession inadmissible.

Tymond Preston (“Preston”), eighteen-years-old, was convicted for allegedly sodomizing and molesting a child. Police officers questioned Preston and immediately inquired further to determine whether he had a disability or not. Preston has an IQ of sixty-five, or the equivalent of about a five-year-old. Police officers continued with their interrogation, and disregarding their training for circumstances such as these, and continued to use tactics that confused Preston due to his intellectual disability. The Ninth Circuit reviewed the issue de novo and held that there is “no talismanic definition of ‘voluntariness.’” Instead, the panel took into consideration that while the tactics used may not have confused a person of average intelligence, based on the police conduct coupled with Preston’s mental state, the term “voluntariness” was to be evaluated with regard to Preston’s confession. The test of voluntariness depends on whether a confession was obtained through violence, threats of violence, direct or implied promises, or improper influence. Based on the totality of the circumstances, Preston has a high susceptibility to be misled or confused by complex situations, and even in conversations involving more than one person speaking. Additionally, Preston did not possess the logical or understanding to know what the police officers were asking him and how it might affect his future. During the interrogation, police officers would give Preston two options to choose from, both of which are crimes, in order to determine if Preston was guilty of anything. They also alluded to Preston that if he chose the lesser crime that he would not be punished. As a result, the panel held that this confused Preston based on his mental deficiency and therefore his confession was involuntary. REVERSED AND REMANDED.

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