First District Appellate Court Holds Motion to Suppress Statements Should Have Been Granted, Reversing a First Degree Murder Conviction.

The challenge in this post for this writer is what to cut out to summarize the case but still include necessary language that bears repeating. This writer considers this case to be mandatory reading for every member of the defense bar not just in this State, but in this country who bears the challenge of fighting an interrogation case. A shout out is also due to the defendant’s lead counsel in this case, Assistant Cook County Public Defender Julie Koehler. Julie’s efforts during the pre-trial motions and the trial made the record that led to this remarkable result: an outright reversal on appeal in a first degree murder case.

In this case, a shooting murder occurred in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. The defendant was handcuffed by police near the scene of the shooting after observing him and another gang member running away from members of a rival gang. That observation, coupled with a statement from one of the rival gang members who participated in the chase that the defendant knows something about the murder, led to the defendant’s transportation to the station.

The defendant was placed in an interview room and had his hands swabbed for a “presumptive GSR test” which was positive. The defendant made repeated denials regarding the shooting. The interrogating officer claimed this was bullshit, and lied to him that there were multiple eyewitnesses to the shooting. The defendant repeated his denials. The defendant stayed overnight in the police station until the next day.

The next day, the detectives turned on a video recorder and began interrogating anew. The detective used familiar interrogation tactics, such as suggesting scenarios like self defense to get the defendant to admit that he was the shooter (the victim was shot in the back) by minimizing the culpability of the shooter. The denials continued along with requests to see his mother, which were repeatedly made and repeatedly denied.

The defendant’s first admission came when the detective, using the minimization interrogation tactic of placing the gun in another person’s hands, got the defendant to say that he was there during the shooting but someone else shot. This account changed over time, adding in an accidental discharge of the weapon, along with repeated requests to call his mother.

All of this was unrecorded. The detectives turned on the recorder the next day as interrogation continued. The police found no physical evidence corroborating this confession. In fact, strong ballistics evidence indicated that the shooter was in a very different location than the one where the defendant claimed he was in his false confession. He was charged with murder.

The defendant’s motion to quash arrest was denied, the trial court finding he was not arrested until the detectives knew that the “presumptive GSR test” was positive. The motion to suppress statements was also denied. The defendant went to a hotly contested jury trial and was found guilty.

The First District Appellate Court reversed the defendant’s conviction outright. They first took up the issue of the denial of the defendant’s motion to quash arrest. They found, based on factors the Illinois Supreme Court has identified to determine whether a seizure took place, that all of the factors indicated that the defendant was seized at the scene by officers without probable cause.

After the illegal arrest, police questioned Sanchez twice about the murder, without advising per Miranda nor recording the questioning, in violation of statute. The appellate court held that the trial court had a duty to suppress all subsequent statements unless the State showed by a preponderance of the evidence that those statements were both voluntary and reliable.

The appellate court found the statements to be involuntary. After first restating the factors used to determine voluntariness (age, intelligence, background, experience, mental capacity, education, and physical condition at the time of questioning; the legality and duration of the detention; the duration of the questioning; and any physical or mental abuse by police,including the existence of threats or promises), the appellate court found that an 18 year old with no criminal background arrested without probable cause and held for 12 hours militated in favor of involuntariness. The court highlighted the fact that the detectives told him he could not call his mother until he
told them the truth about the shooting, and they told him they already knew he shot the victim. The court found the case indistinguishable from the U.S. Supreme Court case of Haynes v. Washington, 373 U.S. 503 (1963).

The appellate court also found the statements to be unreliable. They noted that the prosecution took contradictory positions regarding these statements: stating to the court that they are reliable for the purposes of admissibility but that they were lies to minimize his culpability to the jury. The appellate court found the statement to be unreliable based on police pressure and the defendant’s hope that he would be allowed to call his mother if he

After ruling this statement should have been found to have been inadmissible, the appellate court also ruled that, even if it was admissible, the defendant should have been acquitted as a matter of law. They cited the overwhelming implausibility of the prosecution’s account and held that facts like confessions having exceptional persuasive force coupled with the prosecutor’s false insinuations that the defendant had GSR on his hands and that the opposing gang members accused the defendant of shooting the victim. They also noted with disapproval the prosecution closing argument tactic of shifting the jurors’ focus from the evidence to whether defense counsel had grievously insulted police and whether jurors doubted the integrity of the officers.

The appellate court reversed, but they also went further. They noted that, but for the statutory constraint of recording interrogations, the detectives would have had a much better opportunity to obtain the signatures of their suspects on statements more consistent with the physical evidence, making the statements more plausible while no less false and no less coerced.

The appellate court also made a recommendation that if police departments again use the so-called “presumptive
GSR test,” the departments should inform officers and the subjects of the tests about what the tests actually measure, and what kinds of contact can produce positive test results. They also recommend the consideration of possible sanctions against officers who violate the defendant’s statutory right to make phone calls.

They also plainly called this confession false, noting that while deception by interrogators is expressly approved, such use led to this false confession. They also stated that there is a direct relationship between police use of the truth and the trust and respect police get in the communities for which they serve. They note that these interrogation tactics can destroy this trust.

The case is People v. Jesus Sanchez, 2018 IL App (1st) 143899.

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