People v. Burgund, 2016 IL App (5th) 130119 (November). Episode 265 (Duration 22:49)
Predatory convictions and life sentence reversed because defendant was not allowed to use an expert witness on false confessions.
Super Weird Facts
Defendant just walks into the police station to tell them that he has been abusing his girls for years. The children were 3 1/2 and 1 years old. He confessed to his pastor before going to the police.
Defendant testified that it all began with his wife. She was abusive and made constant accusations that he was lustful over other women and had had an affair.
Eventually, he confessed to his wife and mother-in-law to raping his daughters.
But it gets weird.
He says that they created a coercive and accusatory psychological environment throughout his marriage. His claim is that he voluntarily gave a confession, believing at the time that it was true, while under the influence of false memories created by psychological manipulation.
The coercion involved religious overtones, false accusations of sexual lust, and claims by both his wife and her mother as to having God-gifted, supernatural powers of “discernment.”
His wife in particular made continuance accusations by involving religious and sexual overtones and she claimed to have the power of discernment. This discernment was supernatural and a gift from god.
He explained to the jury how religious beliefs (his and theirs) were a central focus of their lives and that both his wife and mother-in-law, at times, claimed to have a special power from God, the power of discernment, which allowed them to see things that others cannot see.
He testified that he believed that his mother-in-law had the God-gifted power of discernment and that part of him thought that his wife’s claim to have the same power of discernment might be “legit”.
Right With God
The defendant told the jury that once his wife and mother-in-law began accusing him of molesting his daughters, they were persistent with their accusations, told him what he had done in detail, and continually told him that he needed to be honest so that the children could get counseling, he could save his marriage, and he could get right with God.
He testified that, under their psychological pressure, he ultimately started questioning his own memory, started believing the visions placed in his mind by their accusations and descriptions, and was led to believe that he had committed the abuse through their suggestion and manipulation.
He told the jury that, when he confessed, he was operating under these false memories.
There Was Corroboration
She put her ex-fiance through the same crap.
He would have testified that he did not know the defendant but knew her quite well.
She told him that she had a supernatural power of discernment. She constantly accused him of having problems with lust and claimed that God had told her that he needed to work on his problem.
The ex testified in a proffer (because his testimony was actually excluded) that she told him that he needed to work on his problem with lust in order for them to progress in their relationship.
He testified that she told him that he had problems with thinking of other women, wanting to be with other women, and accused him of having sexual thoughts about other women when he saw them.
He too had to follow bat shit crazy rules like keeping his head down in public, no looking in mirrors or billboards, and forced to break-off relationships with friends and family.
She told him that she knew he was having these thoughts because God told her, and that he needed to be fixed by confessing to her everything that he had done and by admitting to all of the things of which she was accusing him.
She would become infuriated and violent when when he refused to go along.
He would not admit to her accusations, and he said “that would infuriate her because she had knowledge from God that that is what was going on.”
Defendant said the trial court errored in not allowing him to call a clinical psychologist who would have testified about his false confessions because of psychological pressure, manipulation, and suggestion from his mother in law and his wife.
More specifically the doctor would have testified that he examined the Defendant and found that Defendant’s personality was such that he was subject to manipulation. The opinion isn’t that he was manipulated just that his personality profile shows a person who could be manipulated.
He opined that:
“It would be my opinion that [the defendant’s] psychological difficulties would make him highly suggestible and easily led, especially in matters that would have religious or sexual overtones. His thinking is very obsessive and rigid. He was extremely passive in matters relating to his past marriage and quick to acquiesce to the demands of suggestions of others. His history revealed that he could be easily manipulated, especially when placed under pressure by his estranged wife and mother-in-law.”
The court said that the doctor’s testimony would be helpful to the jury in its task of evaluating the effect of the psychological environment that the defendant claimed yielded his confession.
The psychological environment that the jury had to consider in this case was not simply the conditions inside the police interview room as is the case with many false confession claims.
Instead, based on the defendant’s testimony, the psychological environment that the jury had to consider included the alleged pressure and suggestion by his wife throughout their marriage and by both his wife and mother-in-law over the five days leading up to the day he voluntarily entered the police station and confessed to the abuse.
The expert testimony would have aided the trier of fact in evaluating the credibility of the defendant’s confession and was relevant “to the ultimate factual issue of the defendant’s guilt or innocence.”
What You Can Use
Very important here.
The court also held that a person confessing to a crime based on a false memory is behavior that is contrary to the average person’s commonsense assumptions and is not a matter of common knowledge.
A rational juror would not readily understand why an innocent defendant might falsely believe he had committed a crime.
Expert testimony related to the defendant’s psychological makeup as it relates to the environment leading up to his confession might aid the trier of fact in understanding the defense and in evaluating the credibility of his confession.
Evidence of the manner in which a confession was obtained may be highly relevant to the confession’s reliability and credibility and should be admitted independent of any question of voluntariness.
The physical and psychological environment that yielded the confession can also be of substantial relevance to the ultimate factual issue of the defendant’s guilt or innocence.
Bottom line: The doctor’s testimony goes to the heart of the defendant’s defense with respect to the reliability and credibility of his confession and would aid the jury in considering issues that are beyond the understanding of the average juror.
A false confession of the sort the defendant claims constitutes counterintuitive behavior that is not within the ordinary person’s common understanding, and thus expert assistance might help the jurors understand how and why a defendant might confess under the circumstances he faced.
The exclusion of such expert testimony could have hindered the jury in its task and prevented it from intelligently determining the issues it was charged with deciding.
This case also features a great discussion on the definition of hearsay.
And a great discussion prior false statements to prove bias, interest, or motive of a witness.
Finally, the kid’s statements properly came in under 115-10.1, but maybe this is just a sign that the section has no meaningful screening function anymore.
(On a side note: A whole lot of irrelevant, prejudicial testimony was also allowed.)