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How the Sausage Is Made

Law Office of James G. Burke, III Sept. 12, 2022

There is an old adage, “If you knew how sausage was made, you wouldn’t eat it.” Similarly, if jurors knew how some confessions were obtained, they might not put any substance or value into the confession.  

In one case, I was appointed to represent a client who was indicted for second degree murder. The police reports indicated the sixteen-year-old defendant gave a full confession to participating in a murder. When I went to see my client, he denied participating in the crime and having any knowledge of the crime. Initially, I was skeptical; however, I quickly changed my mind when I received the physical evidence in the form of an accidental videotaped confession. 

The officers who were investigating the case were not from the law enforcement agency that arrested my client. As a result, they (the investigating officers) were unfamiliar with the interview rooms of the other law enforcement agency and did not know their interview was being video recorded by the other law enforcement agency. During the initial interview, they had already pre-determined my client’s guilt. They exaggerated, misstated, and lied about the evidence they had against my client. The officers told my client his co-defendant had confessed and implicated him in the murder. In fact, the co-defendant did not give a statement, as he wasn’t even arrested. Moreover, the detectives threatened my client to obtain his confession. The officers told my client he could either have life (Second Degree Murder carries a life sentence) or be a witness. Naturally, my client stated he wished to be a witness to the murder. 

After an hour of intense questioning, my client confessed to witnessing the murder. Once the Detectives were able to get my client to falsely admit his participation in the murder, they left the interview room. While the Detectives were gone, the video recording captured my client telling his mother he was lying and making things up as he did not want to do a life sentence. 

Upon returning to interview room, the Detectives began what they thought was the sanitized version of the interview. The investigators conducted and audio taped interview of my client absent the previous threats and my client’s prior denials of involvement in the crime. Even this statement was suspect, as it was apparent my client did not know the facts of the case. He did not know the manner of death or the precise location of the murder. As a result, the Detectives had to spoon feed my client facts about the case which he would then confirm. 

After much legal work and persuasion, the case was rightfully dismissed. The case had all the hallmarks of a false confession, young defendant, limited education, lengthy interrogation, threats, and promises made to the defendant. Without the videotape the case may have proceeded to trial, as the State would not have known how my client’s confession was obtained. 

Louisiana unlike some states, does not have a law requiring law enforcement to video record interviews from start to finish. Such a law would prevent law enforcement from doing unrecorded preparatory interviews and would allow everyone to see how the sausage is made.