Every individual in our society needs confidence in our criminal justice system to know that one cannot be convicted of a crime unless a fact finder is convinced of every necessary element with the highest assurances of the truth. The process of establishing facts in a criminal trial is highly dependent upon how decision-making power is allocated between the judge and the jury and upon the fairness of that allocation. This Note discusses the areas of confession law and burdens of proof in the context of how federal criminal constitutional doctrines that affect the fact-finding process offer less than clear guidance to the states. In particular, this Note compares the separate forces of fundamental fairness and the constitutional limits of presumptions in the law of confessions. In State v. Sawyer, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, heard the State's appeal of a trial court evidence-admissibility ruling that excluded a criminal defendant's arrest and alleged confession on the ground that the confession was involuntary and thus inadmissible. A divided Law Court held that the exclusion of the confession was not warranted and remanded the case for a second suppression hearing. Sawyer presented the Law Court with an opportunity to refine the common law of determining the voluntariness of confessions in Maine. The majority opinion took that opportunity by ruling that the trial court should, on remand, base its decision partly on the legal principle that criminal defendants bear a burden of producing evidence to show that their confession was involuntary. Has the substantive law now been changed? And what is its impact, if any, on principles of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution? This Note analyzes the Law Court's decision and recommends that the court clarify the Sawyer holding by reviewing the role of presumptions in the law of confessions during its next confession case that includes a burden of production issue of law. The Note traces the development of the Maine law of criminal confessions and critiques the Law Court's recent decision as a potential departure from state case law doctrine that generally offers substantial protection to defendants. It also examines the underlying legal principle that the court included in its opinion: that criminal defendants who may have confessed to a crime bear a burden of producing some evidence to generate an issue of fact regarding the voluntariness of their alleged confession. After considering some alternative models, this Note concludes that the Law Court should revisit this area of the law and specify the substantive law of confessions in Maine with respect to constitutional limitations. In doing so, there should remain a constitutionally permissible alternative providing that a defendant may rebut a prosecution's prima facie showing of voluntariness without requiring that criminal defendants testify against themselves or provide other indirectly incriminating evidence in order to avoid an unfavorable evidentiary ruling.
Michael T. Bigos,
Revisiting the Voluntariness of Confessions after State v. Sawyer,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol54/iss2/9