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By Lance J. Rogers
Jan. 14 — A suspect's confession should have been suppressed where the police falsely assured him that he wouldn't be charged so long as he was “honest” and told the truth, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, ruled Jan. 8.
In an opinion by Justice Cynthia Aaron, the court rebuffed the state's argument that the statement was voluntary because Fabian Florence Perez was intelligent and wasn't physically mistreated.
Confessions elicited with beguiling promises of leniency are involuntary, the court said, “even when the defendant is well-educated, rested, and fed.”
A confession is invalid under both state and federal law if it is induced by an express or implied promise of leniency and the promise motivated the suspect to make a statement, the court said.
Perez's motion to suppress should have been granted, it said, because he met both prongs of that test.
The court noted that Perez refused to admit his involvement in the murder of a taxi driver, even when the police lied and said they had fingerprint and security camera evidence linking him to the scene.
However, it said, he eventually relented after the officers told him they wouldn't bring charges if he would just “tell the truth and be honest.” They promised that he would “go home at the end of the day” and would years later “chalk this up to a very scary time in your life.”
The court reversed and remanded Perez's first-degree murder conviction and life-without-parole sentence, ruling that the statements would have to be suppressed in any retrial.
The court rebuffed the state's argument that the assurance wasn't a false one because it was merely a promise not to charge Perez “at that time” and because everyone understood that the final charging decision would be made by the prosecutor. The promise, it observed, was “unqualified.”
Likewise unavailing was the argument that Perez was intelligent, wasn't mistreated and had simply caved in after realizing that the evidence had mounted up against him.
The court noted that Perez maintained his innocence even after the cops lied and said they had fingerprint evidence and video evidence of his involvement.
It was the false promise not to charge that triggered the confession, the court said.
Waldemar Halka, San Diego, represented Perez. The state was represented by the California Attorney General's Office.
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