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Name: U.S. v. Preston
Case #: 11-10511
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 05/12/2014

Under the totality of the circumstances, including defendant’s mental disabilities, his confession was involuntary and inadmissible. Preston was 18 years old with an IQ of 65. He lived on the Navajo Nation with his parents, attending special education classes until he dropped out of high school. Psychological exams reflected he had limited linguistic ability or comprehension. An eight-year-old neighbor reported Preston molested him; most of the allegations were not corroborated by physical evidence. He was charged in federal district court with a sexual offense. His motion to suppress statements he made to officers was denied and he was convicted. He appealed. Held: Reversed. Although low intelligence alone does not make a confession involuntary it may render a suspect more susceptible to mentally coercive police tactics. All of the circumstances of the interrogation must be considered in their totality. Whether a confession is voluntary must be determined with complete disregard of whether or not the defendant spoke the truth. The issue of police coercion must be considered in tandem with evidence of the suspect’s mental state (disapproving Derrick v. Peterson (1991) 924 F.2d 813, which held a suspect’s individual characteristics are relevant only if the court first finds coercive police conduct). Here, officers questioned Preston for about 40 minutes outside his home. They gave him the choice of admitting a more heinous crime or less heinous offense; rejected his denials of guilt; told him the responses they would accept; fed him details of the crime they wanted him to admit; promised him they would not tell anyone; and offered leniency. Considering all of the factors, Preston’s will was overborne.