11 Jul Involuntary Admissions of Guilt as Evidence in Massachusetts Criminal Law
Involuntary Admissions of Guilt
If you are involved or have been involved in any event that could lead to a criminal charge brought against you, it’s critical that you do not admit guilt, and in fact, that you avoid making any statement relating to your potential responsibility for the incident altogether.
Though Massachusetts law does not allow involuntary statements to be considered as evidence in a criminal prosecution, if any statements you are deemed to have been made voluntarily, freely, and rationally, then such statements may be admitted into evidence — and assuming that the statements implicate you in some fashion — may seriously hurt your case.
The law surrounding involuntary statements can be rather complicated at a glance, so let’s take a look at the Massachusetts jury instructions for further clarification and simplification of the issues.
Admission Statements as Evidence
Suppose it’s late at night and you are involved in a fight outside of a bar. You did not start the fight, and in fact, the other person was the aggressor. You dodge the aggressor’s attacks and hit back as a matter of self-defense. As a result, however, the aggressor falls to the ground, seriously injured. In the moment, you exclaim nervously, “I’m sorry. It’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have hit you!”
In the event that criminal charges are brought against you, can these post-fight statements be admitted into evidence as proof that your actions in self-defense were unreasonable and excessive, and that you recognized the excessiveness of your actions?
Massachusetts Jury Instruction 3.560 (Confessions and Admissions – Humane Practice) is particularly useful for guiding our understanding of admissibility.
Any statements that you make — including the post-fight statement — are inadmissible if they are involuntary. Massachusetts law provides that the defendant’s statements may not be admitted into evidence unless the State can prove beyond a reasonable doubt (i.e., with 99% certainty) that the defendant actually made the statement, and further, that the statement was made voluntarily, freely, and rationally. Why does Massachusetts impose this rule? According to Massachusetts public policy, involuntary statements are unreliable and the admission of such statements may take advantage of a person who is rendered physically or mentally incapable of freely deciding whether to speak.
Juries are allowed to consider the issue only if the judge has already considered it. The judge must initially decide at a preliminary hearing whether the statement was voluntarily, freely, and rationally made (based on the weight of the evidence presented), and if the judge decides that the statement is admissible, then the jury must consider the issue as well.
Fundamentally, if the State can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that your statement was made voluntarily, then it may be admitted (and may therefore hurt your defense). In making their argument, the State will attempt to weave a narrative, based on the circumstances, that demonstrates the voluntary nature of your statement.
Circumstances and Other Relevant Factors
In deciding whether a given statement is voluntary or involuntary, the State may draw from the surrounding circumstances. These include, but are not necessarily limited, to:
- When and where the statement was made
- The defendant’s condition (both mental and physical)
- The defendant’s age, intelligence, education, and personality
- Conversations with law enforcement
- The duration of law enforcement questioning
- Whether the defendant was intoxicated at the time
Let’s return to the previous example involving the post-fight statement. If you were intoxicated at the time of the fight, then it will be extremely difficult for the State to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your statement was made voluntarily, freely, and rationally.