Vulnerability Through a Legal Lens: A Comparative Jurisdictional Analysis Of The Law Of Confessions And Vulnerable Suspects

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Abstract

This article considers the law of confessions in England and the United States of America Supreme Court’s Fourteenth amendment cases, with a focus on suspects who are vulnerable. The question that is asked in the piece of work is whether the English statutory provisions and the decisions of the US Supreme Court provide sufficient protection to vulnerable suspects who falsely confess to crimes. A novel approach is adopted with this comparative analysis as it extends the knowledge base by examining vulnerability and the law of confessions within two jurisdictional parameters. A further contribution to knowledge can be seen as the paper provides a bespoke piece of legislation that affords protection to such individuals, and thereby adds to the current debate on vulnerability in the criminal justice system. Firstly, the work critically examine why vulnerable suspects will falsely confess to criminal acts. It will be established that vulnerable suspects may confess even if they have not been coerced, and this will be the foundational basis for the suggested reform: a vulnerable suspects confession should be excluded as a result of their characteristics or that such individuals should be provided with mandatory legal advice. The focus will then turn to the extant position in England, where it will be revealed that confessions will be excluded if they have been obtained by unfair practices or through inhumane or degrading treatment. It will also be recognised that the English jurisdiction affords limited protection to vulnerable suspects even though they are entitled to legal advice and an appropriate adult being present. The US Supreme court’s position will then be evaluated by chronologically critiquing the use of the due process clause in cases of confessions. It will be identified that the vulnerability of the individual can be considered in determining whether a confession should be excluded but cannot be utilised in isolation of other factors. The two jurisdictions will then be critically compared and the positive and negative aspects of the law in the jurisdictions will be evaluated. It will be established that neither England or the US Supreme provides sufficient protection to vulnerable suspects and the law requires further refinement, by placing priority on mandatory legal advice and/or an opportunity to exclude the confession. A de novo remedial statutory provision for England is provided as an effective solution to the issue of vulnerability and false confessions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Journal of Criminal Law
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 12 Apr 2024

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