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MIRANDA rights don't make confessions OK. (Checklist for Forensic Psychiatrists).

NEWPORT BEACH, CALIF. -- Just because police have read a suspect his Miranda rights doesn't mean that the resulting confession is voluntary. The admissibility of confessions can be challenged for any number of reasons, Dr. Kenneth J. Weiss said at he annual meeting of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

"Confessions must be knowing, intelligent, and voluntary," said Dr. Weiss, medical director of Delaware Valley Research Associates, Conshohocken, Pa. "Therefore, any psychiatric factors bearing on these elements can be a basis for suppressing the confession."

He has developed a checklist of factors commonly associated with reliability issues. This checklist neatly spells our MIRANDA, forming a mnemonic device aimed at helping forensic psychiatrists recall the valid reasons for challenging confessions:

* M stands for mental illness. Command hallucinations In a schizophrenic do not by themselves render a confession invalid. But delusional guilt can very well form a basis for suppressing a confession. Some people with mania may be so overwhelmed by feelings of grandiosity and invulnerability as to be out of touch with the implication of their loss of rights. Negative symptoms in schizophren a, particularly conceptional disorganization, can prevent someone from truly understanding the concept of confession. This, however, can be difficult to explain to judges. Dr. Weiss said.

* I stands for intoxication. When someone's tongue is loosened because of an intoxicant such as alcohol, cocaine, or MDMA (Ecstasy), an inherent unreliability exists that may be taken advantage of by an astute detective. It's rare for police to measure blood alcohol content or to conduct toxicology screens in these cases. Therefore, to challenge a confession on this basis, the psychiatrist may have to examine videotapes or audiotapes of the interrogation. Police reports sometimes mention the odor of alcohol on the breath.

* R stands for retardation. People who are mentally retarded often have an inherent lack of capacity to comprehend their rights, to appreciate the waiver of their rights, and to resist pressure from the authorities. They often wish to blend in and not to appear stupid, so they are likely to go along with police requests. Psychiatrists should get school records to document developmental disability. And if police knew that the suspect was retarded, their interrogation might be deemed negligent and viewed as an example of taking advantage of the suspect.

* A stands for acquiescence response set. The tendency to say "yes" in answer to any question is often seen among retarded individuals. This can sometimes be diagnosed through an invalid profile in the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.

* N stands for narcotic withdrawal. Sometimes, the short elimination half-life of a drug such as heroin or some benzodiazepines may put the suspect into withdrawal during the interrogation. The police sometimes take advantage of this by telling the suspect, "We'll get you to rehab as soon as you tell us what really happened."

* D stands for deception. Trickery and fakery are legitimate police tactics when they are seeking a confession. But some individuals because of their psychiatric condition, may be more susceptible to these tactics than the ordinary citizen. In some jurisdictions this may be enough to invalidate a confession, but Dr. Weiss acknowledged that this argument is usually a very hard sell when one goes before a judge.

* A stands for abuse and coercion. While confessions obtained through abuse and coercion are clearly invalid, proof of torture is usually quite elusive. It's difficult to know what went on during the hours of interrogation.
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Author:Finn, Robert
Publication:Clinical Psychiatry News
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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