The Evolution of the Law's Treatment of the Confessions of Mentally Disabled Criminal Suspects


Over the past century, the U.S. Supreme Court’s treatment of dubious confessions has evolved in such a way that the protections afforded mentally disabled criminal suspects under the present state of the law are minimal. From an initial focus on the voluntariness of the confession, the standard has shifted to a cursory check for Miranda’s rote warnings and the presence of police wrongdoing, leaving the mentally disabled protected only by the highly subjective totality of the circumstances analysis. The inherently coercive nature of police interrogational tactics has resulted in an increase of the erroneous conviction rate of mentally disabled suspects and a corresponding decrease in the conviction rate of the actual offenders. Of the few options available to ameliorate this problem, videotaping the entire interrogation emerges as the best alternative. A case study of a mentally disabled suspect who was erroneously convicted on the basis of his false confession follows.