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Confessing that you confessed is not the same as confessing the crime

United States v. Pough, No. 15-1762 (3d Cir. Jan. 22, 2016) (unpublished)

This non-precedential Third Circuit decision reminds district courts that confessing that you were coerced into confessing something is not the same as confessing that you did what you confessed to doing.  Got that?  The facts may help.  Pough (who was already on federal supervised release) confessed to being a getaway driver in a murder-for-hire.  In a state court prosecution he moved to suppress the confession.  At the suppression hearing he testified about the contents of the confession; loosely, “yes, I confessed to being the getaway driver.”  The state court suppressed the confession as coerced and the state withdrew the charges.

Not one to let these things go, however, the federal government tried to revoke Pough’s supervised release.  The district court interpreted Pough’s testimony at the suppression hearing as an admission that he committed the conduct to which he had confessed, and found a violation.  The court took pains to note that it had “rel[ied] solely on” Pough’s testimony in support of suppression.  It probably did so in the hope of avoiding the thorny question of whether a coerced confession is admissible in a federal revocation proceeding – but in the process it earned a reversal.  Reviewing the transcript, the circuit held the district court’s interpretation clearly erroneous, noting the difference between admitting to having confessed to conduct and actually confessing to the conduct.

The remand may require the district court to confront the thorny question that it tried to avoid.

By:  Lisa A. Mathewson, www.mathewson-law.com