Beavers v. State
In Beavers v. State, 998 P.2d 1040 (Alaska 2000), two state troopers questioned Beavers in a police vehicle outside the restaurant where Beavers worked.
Beavers was sixteen years old at the time. The troopers told Beavers that he was not under arrest, had not been charged with a crime, and was free to end the interview at any time. While questioning Beavers about his involvement in several robberies, one of the troopers emphasized the importance of Beavers cooperating and telling the truth. The trooper said:
"I know that when you're young, you do some stupid stuff, make a, make a wrong turn somewhere, okay. And, and you do some crazy stuff, okay? But, if you're, if you try and hide it from me you're really going to get hammered. I mean it's, you gotta come out and tell me the truth on this stuff, okay?"
The Alaska Supreme Court held that threat-induced confessions are presumptively involuntary absent affirmative evidence that the suspect's will was not overcome by the threats.
The court concluded that Beavers's confession was involuntary under this standard because the trooper's statement that Beavers would get "hammered" if he attempted to hide his involvement in the robberies conveyed the "unmistakable message that Beavers would be punished for exercising his constitutional right to silence." The court found no affirmative indications that these threats had not overcome Beavers's will. (See id.)
The Alaska Supreme Court outlined a three-part inquiry for ascertaining the voluntariness of a confession: the appellate court will review the trial court's findings regarding the "external, phenomenological facts surrounding the confession" for clear error and then will determine independently the accused's mental state and the legal significance of that mental state after an examination of the entire record and the "totality of the circumstances surrounding the confession." (Id. at 1044.)
In Beavers, the Alaska Supreme Court held that "threat-induced confessions should be considered presumptively involuntary absent evidence affirmatively indicating that the suspect's will was not overcome by the threats."
The police told Beavers that he might be "hammered" -- subjected to harsher treatment -- during a non-custodial interview after which Beavers confessed to participation in a robbery.
The court concluded that Beavers' confession was involuntary because the interviewing troopers' threat that he would be "hammered" if he attempted to hide his involvement in the robberies "conveyed an unmistakable message that Beavers would be punished for exercising his constitutional right to silence."
The Alaska Supreme Court held that a police officer's warning to the suspect that if he tried to hide the truth about the robberies, he would be "hammered," rendered the suspect's following inculpatory statements presumptively involuntary in the absence of affirmative evidence that the suspect's will was not overborne. (998 P.2d at 1048.)
The Alaska Supreme Court held that when the police use threats of harsher punishment to induce a confession "the resulting confession should be considered involuntary unless the state can show affirmatively that the confession was voluntarily made."
In a footnote, the supreme court acknowledged that its prohibition of the use of threats might be more demanding than federal constitutional law. It therefore based its holding on article I, section 9 of the Alaska Constitution.
In Beavers, two Alaska state troopers questioned Beavers, who was then sixteen years old, while they were investigating two Anchorage robberies. The troopers approached Beavers at the restaurant where he worked. They identified themselves and told Beavers that they wanted to question him outside of the restaurant to avoid the noise inside.
In an interview that lasted twenty-one minutes, the troopers talked to Beavers in their patrol car. The troopers told Beavers that he was not under arrest and could leave at any time. After Beavers answered several questions indicating his knowledge of a friend's involvement in some burglaries, Trooper Gerald Graham told Beavers that if he was involved in the burglaries, he needed to tell him. Trooper Graham said that if he later found out that Beavers had been involved in the burglaries, having denied it, there would be "some problems." After Beavers answered several questions concerning his friends and the location of various stolen items, Trooper Graham said that he knew Beavers was telling the truth because his statements were consistent with information from the trooper's prior investigation. Trooper Graham then stated, "But, if ... you try and hide it from me you're really going to get hammered."
After showing Beavers a photo lineup which included Beavers and one of his friends, Trooper Graham stated, "Now if you want to lie to me and get in more trouble, that's fine, okay?" After this exchange, Beavers admitted his participation in the robbery, giving a detailed account.
The superior court found that Beavers's confession was involuntary. The Court reversed the superior court. The supreme court reversed our decision.
The supreme court emphasized that "when the accused is a juvenile, the state assumes a particularly heavy burden of proof."
The supreme court stated:
"A criminal suspect's right to remain silent represents one of the most fundamental aspects of our constitutional jurisprudence. It includes the right to terminate an interrogation at any time. We regard any potential encroachment upon this right with the utmost concern. A law enforcement officer's threat of harsher than normal treatment -- however phrased -- essentially conveys to criminal suspects that they will be punished for their silence, including any refusal to give further answers. ... Suspects are told, in effect, that they must give up their constitutional right to silence or they will suffer greater punishment. We view such threats with disfavor. Where they are used, the resulting confession should be considered involuntary unless the state can show affirmatively that the confession was voluntarily made."
The court then went on to discuss United States v. Harrison, 34 F.3d 886 (9th Cir. 1994).Harrison, investigating a noise outside her house, discovered approximately fifteen federal agents with weapons drawn. After arresting Harrison and her companion, the agents searched her home. The agents advised Harrison of her rights, and an agent informed her of the evidence linking her to money laundering. According to the Alaska Supreme Court:
The agent then told Harrison that she could potentially receive a twenty-year sentence for her participation in the crime, and asked whether she thought it would be better if the judge was told of her cooperation or non-cooperation. Harrison responded that it would be better if the judge was informed of her cooperation, and she proceeded to confess her criminal involvement to the agents. ...
.... While expressing its continued adherence to the "totality of circumstances" approach, the court nevertheless established an exception for confessions induced by police threats to inform the prosecutor of a suspect's refusal to cooperate. According to the court, "there are no circumstances in which law enforcement officers may suggest that a suspect's exercise of the right to remain silent may result in harsher treatment by a court or prosecutor." (Beavers, 998 P.2d at 1046-47.)