Coerced Confessions and Offers of Leniency
An offer of leniency—actual or implied—made to a criminal suspect is a form of “coercion” that may result in the suppression of any resulting incriminating statements. What is, and is not, an offer of leniency depends upon the circumstances.
Defendant Anthony Scott Zabelle and another unidentified person assaulted a man referred to only as “Scott” in an attempt to retrieve money allegedly owed by Scott. In the assault, apparently documented on a surveillance camera from somewhere, defendant came up behind Scott in an alley way and hit him over the head with a glass bottle. Upon Scott falling to the ground, defendant “stomped on his head.” Defendant and his unnamed accomplice then rifled through the unconscious Scott’s pockets, taking some personal belongs (a pipe and a knife) and his wallet containing about $100. Police found the still unconscious Scott in the alley with a two-inch laceration to the back of his head. The officers tracked defendant down to a nearby motel and took him into custody. Defendant was read his Miranda rights which he acknowledged understanding. He immediately denied culpability (“I didn’t rob nobody”). One or more of the officers questioned defendant (in a very disjointed interrogation), commenting at the beginning of the interrogation that; “[t]here is a very critical time where you can earn possibly some consideration.” A few minutes later in the questioning, the officer told defendant: “You know we can’t make any guarantees but sometimes being honest and up front, admitting your involvement and—and what you did can go a ways to showing your remorse and . . . (s)ometimes that works in your favor. Sometimes it doesn’t.” Defendant immediately thereafter admitted that blood on his shoes was “probably” Scott’s. This was followed up with a somewhat disjointed confession. Defendant’s confession (such as it was) was used against him at trial. He was convicted of second degree robbery (P.C. § 211). The jury also found true the allegation that defendant inflicted great bodily injury on Scott during the commission of the robbery (P.C. § 12022.7(a)). The trial court sentenced defendant to eight years in prison and he appealed.