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Supreme Court lets stand ruling in self-incrimination case

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A juvenile court judge determined that Paul did not understand that he had a right to remain silent and a right to have a lawyer and his parents present for the entire interrogation. The judge ruled that police coerced Paul’s confession. In addition, the judge ruled that the accusing girl’s statement was not credible. Both statements were thrown out and all charges against Paul were dropped.

Paul and his parents responded by filing a civil lawsuit against Jensen, claiming the police officer violated Paul’s Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.

When is the Fifth Amendment right triggered?

A federal judge threw the civil lawsuit out, finding that the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination applies only to statements that are admitted as evidence against a defendant during a trial. Since Paul’s statements were thrown out before any trial, there was no constitutional violation.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The appeals court said that the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self incrimination is triggered whenever a coerced statement is relied upon to advance a criminal case.

“Use of the coerced statements at trial is not necessary for Paul to assert a claim for violation of his rights under the Fifth Amendment,” the appeals court said. Instead, the panel interpreted the constitutional protection more broadly, finding that it covers any coerced statement used in a criminal case.

Specifically, the court cited three non-trial instances when it would apply: “When it has been relied upon to file formal charges against the declarant, to determine judicially that the prosecution may proceed, and to determine pretrial custody status.”

Lawyers for Jensen had asked the Supreme Court to take up the case and reverse the Ninth Circuit decision. They argue that the Fifth Amendment should only apply to statements at trial.

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