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Criminal – Voluntariness Of Confession – Involuntary Statement – Interrogation – Child Abuse

Where defendant on two occasions was interrogated by police and a social worker for several hours regarding possible abuse of defendant’s child, the trial court did not err in concluding that her statement to police was involuntary and in suppressing that statement.

The second time defendant was questioned by the investigators, she had not been allowed to see her child, the doctors would not give her information, and the investigators were not telling her anything. She testified that she was afraid of the police bothering her at her workplace and that her confusion and fear were great. When she talked to the investigators, she was repeatedly asked if she abused the child or “could…have done it.” She testified that she was questioned about statements her husband made.

Defendant was an obviously distraught lay person with a tenth grade education, who had consistently denied abusing her children and whose children had been separated from her by the Department of Social Services. In addition, the evidence proved that defendant’s husband had been given a suspended sentence when he pled guilty to a previous incident of child abuse. He was at risk of being returned to prison by having his suspended sentence revoked. Defendant testified that her husband told her only her statement would keep him out of jail.

We conclude the trial court’s decision suppressing the statement was not plainly wrong.

Coleman, J.: The majority holds that the promise of psychological help was presented to defendant as an alternative to incarceration. But the undisputed evidence established that the possibility of jail was mentioned to defendant prior to her confession. At no time did defendant testify that the officer promised her freedom in exchange for a confession or that she understood that such would be the case.

In my opinion, no evidence supports a finding that the defendant’s statement was the result of police coercion. The trial judge’s decision that the confession was involuntary is erroneous, even when viewed in the light most favorably to defendant. I would reverse the trial court’s decision to suppress defendant’s statement.

Commonwealth v. Towler (Benton) No. 0843-93-1, Sept. 28, 1993; Norfolk Cir.Ct. (Sachs) Eugene Murphy, AAG, for appellant; Thomas A. Connor for appellee. VLW 093-7-576, 9 pp.

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