Police may not fabricate evidence to convince a suspect to confess to a crime, a New Jersey appeals court ruled yesterday, the Newark Star-Ledger reports. The decision establishes clear boundaries for the use of trickery or deceit by police officers when questioning a suspect in New Jersey. Courts have allowed police use of psychologically coercive techniques and even outright lying, such as telling a suspect his fingerprints or DNA were found at the crime scene. A three-judge panel said police went too far when they actually created evidence: a tape recording of an officer purporting to be an eyewitness to a murder.
The court overturned the murder conviction of Ronald Patton, 28, of Camden, who was accused of shooting his girlfriend. Police had tape-recorded a person pretending to be an informant who gave detailed information about Patton and the crime. In fact, the person was a law enforcement officer posing as an eyewitness and the recording was ade in the hopes of getting Patton to confess.
The tape was played to Patton after nearly 19 hours of questioning, during which he was suffering from heroin withdrawal. Patton did confess, but later alleged it was coerced. “We recognize that our decision barring the use of fabricated evidence effectively denies the right of the state to use defendant’s confession to a murder,” the court said. “However, adherence to constitutional precepts cannot cease simply because the result is unfavorable to law enforcement. … There is a more significant principle at stake: due process.”