Physical Abuse Confession Case Example

In People v. McElheny (1982) McElheny and a second robber were confronted by the police. a gunfight ensued in which a police officer was wounded and McElheny's accomplice was killed. McElheny escaped and was at large for approximately an hour. When apprehended, he was beaten, his face was forced down into the body of his dead accomplice and he was told "this is your murder, punk." ( Id. at p. 400.) He was then taken by the hair to a police car containing barking dogs and was told by an officer he ought to be put in that car. McElheny was transported to the police station where about four hours later he waived his rights, was interrogated in a noncoercive manner by officers not involved in his arrest and confessed to the robbery. ( Id. at pp. 399-401.) The court excluded McElheny's confession, finding that his will was overborne by physical and psychological abuse. In that case the misconduct occurred as part of the investigation of a particular crime. Excluding the confession would convey to other officers that if they engage in misconduct during an investigation, they risk tainting evidence, such as a later confession, helpful to conviction. The misconduct in McElheny, was intimately related to the investigation of the crime and to those charged with securing evidence in support of a prosecution. The misconduct in that case, therefore, implicated the value that we should secure evidence and advance prosecutions by fair and lawful means. Those values are not so readily at issue when the misconduct is unrelated to an investigation and results in a confession only by happenstance.