Are lies as good as a confession in criminal cases

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Every detective loves a good confession.  On one such occasion I took Detective Inspector Steve Rutherford with me on an early morning search warrant.  We both knew the target and Steve asked me what I thought his reaction would be to our visit.  I told Steve that I thought he would confess his crimes to me.

When we arrived at the address the target came to the front door and asked why we had both turned up.  I replied, “When Steve Rutherford and I turn up on your doorstop at 6am with a search warrant, your day is probably not going to end well!”

We were invited inside this typical South Auckland home and I went through the formalities of persons under search warrants including outlining our reasons for the search.  I followed it up with a simple question – “Did you do it?”  The target replied “I’ve got too much respect for you to lie, yes I did”. 

It was almost a ‘fair cop guv’ type of answer and proved me right in my assessment of the target.  But what happens when the crook lies?  In my experience lies from a criminal are better than a confession, particularly when they are played out in front of a jury.

For a starter, with confessions the defence case becomes focussed on muddying the waters by playing the man and not the ball.  This often means defence attack the detective’s credibility trying to portray the criminal as a victim of the nasty policeman, thus confessing.  Secondly, with confessions detectives place reliance on them and if they are later ruled inadmissible it can dent the crown case.  Lastly confessions often become a factor in appeals after the criminal’s conviction. 

I loved it when the criminal would think he was much smarter than he actually was, and tell lies.  The thing about lies is that they have a way of unravelling, particularly when challenged in court by corroborated evidence.  On one such occasion I arrested a drug dealer after finding drugs in a brief case which found in a garage on his property. At interview, the drug dealer denied the brief case was his and furthermore advised the garage was used by a wide variety of people as a doss house for indigent relatives.  Ergo the briefcase (and drugs it contained) could belong to anyone. 

There was an inconvenient truth that he had not remembered, the briefcase also contained a diary which contained notations relating to his brother’s death and unveiling and the birthdays of his children.  At a jury trial he maintained his innocence and had to give evidence to back up his assertion that the briefcase was not his.  

After his evidence in chief the crown prosecutor asked him to view the diary and he swore again that he had never seen it before in his life.  He was asked “did you have a brother Peter, who died?”  “Yes”, he replied.  “On what date did he die?”  “20th April came the reply….” “A year later did you have an unveiling for Peter?” the crown asked.  “Yes” was the reply.  “Please open the diary and turn to the date of 20 April, he was asked.  “What is the notation in the diary?”  “Please read it out loud so the jury can hear it”.  You could see the sweat forming on this man’s brow at 50 paces.  The criminal read from the diary “Peter’s unveiling held at ...”.  The crown went onto cross examine this bright spark about the names and dates of birth for his three children.  The diary had all three children’s names and dates of birth noted on correct dates.   These and other facts in the diary related to this criminal, led to his being found guilty by the jury.

Such lies when proven to be so by corroborated evidence are better than a confession.  They are never attacked by defence counsel who are normally too embarrassed about their client’s idiocy to raise concerns.   An accused person’s lies make them look silly and with something to hide.  Lastly they always provide plenty of anticipatory mirth by detectives who know what’s coming when the lie unravels before the jury.  Juries don’t let themselves look stupid by accepting the lies either. 

In my opinion, a criminal’s lies are better than a confession and undoubtedly lead to more convictions at trials than often challenged confessions.