Confessions are a tricky business. One would assume that if an accused person is willing to face punishment by confessing, the confession must be credible. After all, no one would confess to a crime that they did not commit, right? Not exactly. False confessions are often obtained by law enforcement through various coercive or illegal means. In addition, some individuals falsely confess to crimes for reasons of their own.
The Colorado Supreme Court held in January that confessions must be proven to be reliable by prosecutors before they will be considered admissible in criminal cases. This standard is critically important, given all of the reasons we just mentioned that confessions may or may not be reliable or admissible on face in any given situation. The case before the court involved an individual who confessed to a sex offense whose conviction was ultimately overturned.
Until now, accused persons in Colorado have been held to a standard that allowed for confession admissibility if prosecutors presented substantial evidence that the accused committed the crime in question. This standard was wholly inadequate in protecting accused persons from being judged on the basis of false or inappropriately obtained confessions.
Now prosecutors are required to demonstrate that a given confession is reliable or trustworthy before it will be admitted into evidence. Hopefully the court’s new standard will better ensure that the rights of the accused are properly protected. Because even something as seemingly straightforward as a confession is tricky business for the purposes of criminal law.
Source: Denverpost.com, “Colorado high court changes rules for confessions, proof of crime not needed,” Jessica Fender, Jan. 14, 2013