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Confession to police by a 19 year old thrown out; United States v. Lall

This is one of the rare cases where a confession was thrown out. It commonly happens on television but rarely in real life, especially in federal court where the federal agents are well trained and rarely make mistakes involving Miranda warning. As demonstrated on television police must give warnings commonly known as the Miranda warnings, named after the United States Supreme Court decision Miranda v. Arizona decided in 1964 which required law enforcement to advise every person arrested of certain Constitutional rights:

  • Fifth Amendment right to remain silent
  • Any statements made can be used against the defendant in Court
  • Sixth Amendment Right to a lawyer
  • Any decision to speak
  • Right to a lawyer even if one cannot afford to hire and Sixth Amendment rights.
  • In this case the police officer read Miranda rights, but he made the mistake of assuring the young man that any statements he made would not be used against him in any prosecution.

In U.S. v. Lall, a home in North Miami Beach was the target of a home robbery. A police detective investigating the robbery began asking the owners of the home some routine questions. He learned from the owners of the home that their 19 year old son had been involved with credit card fraud, the detective came to the conclusion that the robbers must have broken into the home to look for objects related to the son’s credit card business that he kept inside the son’s room.

Eventually the son arrived. Believing that the son was involved in illegal activities, the officer gave the son a Miranda warning. He then began asking the son to point out certain items in the room related to his credit card business.

Prior to entering the son’s room, the detective told him that any of the information he was about to give to detective would not be used against him in any court. Of course, the young man relied upon this assurance and agreed to show the officers evidence of his fraudulent credit card business. The young men was charged with credit card fraud.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the evidence seized from his house. Specifically, he claimed that the consent he gave to the search of his room was not given voluntarily. The trial court rejected his argument. However, the appellate court found that the defendant’s confession was not free and involuntary because of the detective promised the evidence would not be used in any prosecution. The fact that the evidence was used in a federal prosecution did not matter. All subsequent statements were also suppressed because the circumstances under which the statements were the same.