People v. Cahill (1994)

In People v. Cahill (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 296, the police officer represented to the defendant that he could avoid the charge of first degree murder if the killing was not premeditated, and thus he should simply admit he was in the house and had knowledge of the crime. This in effect was a false promise, and the officer gave inaccurate information about the death penalty. The reviewing court ultimately found the admission of the confession harmless error because there was no doubt regarding the defendant's guilt. In People v. Cahill (1994) two detectives interrogated defendant, who was a suspect in an investigation of a rape and murder committed during the course of a robbery. (Cahill, supra, 22 Cal.App.4th at p. 300.) The defendant admitted his role in several robberies, but would only discuss the victim's case in hypothetical terms. (Id. at pp. 301-305.) The officers told the defendant their evidence established he was in the victim's house and if he did not disclose any mitigating factors he would be charged with premeditated murder. (Id. at pp. 305-306.) The lead interrogator gave the defendant a materially deceptive synopsis of the law of murder, omitting any reference to the felony murder rule, and also repeatedly suggested the defendant could avoid a first degree murder charge if he admitted the killing was not premeditated. (Id. at p. 314.) Eventually, the defendant admitted he participated in an armed robbery of the victim but claimed his friend raped and shot the victim. (Id. at p. 308.) The defendant in Cahill was convicted of first degree murder and, on appeal, challenged the voluntariness of his confession, alleging the officers' remarks amounted to an implied promise of leniency. The court agreed, finding that "the basis" of the lead detective's efforts to extract a confession from the defendant was "his representation that the defendant could avoid a charge of murder in the first degree if the killing were not premeditated." (Cahill, supra, 22 Cal.App.4th at p. 314.) According to the court, the "thrust of the detective's argument to the defendant was that he should tell what had occurred to dispel the implication that the murder was premeditated" (ibid.) and the clear implication of his remarks was that the defendant would be tried for premeditated murder unless he admitted he was in the victim's house and denied that he premeditated the killing. This threat, the court found, was also an implied promise that if the defendant admitted his role in the killing but had not premeditated, he might avoid a conviction for first degree murder. (Ibid.) The court found the confession was the product of a "false promise" of leniency. (Id. at p. 315.) The Cahill court noted that where the "dominant focus" of an interview is an "implied promise of leniency" any subsequent confession must be attributed to the implied promise. (Id. at p. 316.)