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Hill v. State – Confessions and Improper Inducement

Hill v. State, 418 Md. 62 (2011).

            Confessions – Improper Inducements

The case ultimately relies on the two prong test from the 1979 Maryland case Hilliard.  The opinion is here.

The Defendant was suspected of sexually abusing victim.  Defendant agreed to an interview at the police station.  During the interview a detective told the Defendant that the victim’s family “did not want [the Defendant] to get into any trouble and only wanted an apology.”  Thereafter, the Defendant admitted to abusing the victim and the detective suggested that he write an apology letter to the victim.  The Defendant complied and wrote said letter apologizing “for everything that happened between [them]” and stating that “[he] wish[ed] this had never happened and [that] it [would] never happen again.”

The Defendant was later arrested, charged, and tried.  He moved for the suppression of his statements to the police, arguing they were the product of the detective’s improper inducement.  During the suppression hearing he testified that he believed supplying the apology letter “would just end the nightmare and what he was going through.”  The motion to suppress was denied, evidence of the “confession” admitted, and the Defendant was convicted of various sexual offenses.

On appeal, the COA held that the Defendant’s statements were the product of an improper inducement.  The COA analyzed the confession using the two-pronged test outlined in Hillard v. State, 286 Md. 145 (1979).  Under the first, objective prong of Hillard, the COA held that the Defendant reasonable believed that he could gain advantage of non-prosecution by supplying the requested apology as the detective had informed him the victim’s family did not want him to get in “trouble.”  A reasonable person in the Defendant’s position would have thought this meant the family would have, and could have, recommended that charges not be filed.  Under the second prong, the COA held that the State had not met its burden, by a preponderance of the evidence, of showing that the Defendant had not relied on the detective’s statements in making the “apology.”  Thus, the COA held that the Defendant’s confession was not voluntary and required the granting of a new trial.