Why “Criminals” Should Have Rights

The consequences of law enforcement treating you as a criminal with no rights? Twenty-two years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit:

[Byron] Halsey was interrogated for 30 hours during a 40-hour period shortly after the bodies were discovered. When this questioning led to a confession by Halsey, police stopped investigating [Clifton] Hall.

Halsey, who has a sixth-grade education and severe learning disabilities, offered varying accounts of the crime that did not agree with the evidence. On every key fact of the crime, including the location of the bodies and the manner of death, Halsey initially gave incorrect answers and had to guess several times before answering correctly. The detective interrogating Halsey later said many of his answers were “gibberish” and that he seemed to be in a trance during the process. However, the final statement signed by Halsey mentions neither these inaccuracies nor the process that led to the statement. None of the interrogation statements were audio or video recorded.

He was convicted, but the Innocence Project eventually uncovered the truth.

Since 1993, Halsey repeatedly requested – and was denied – access to post-conviction DNA testing in his case. In July 2002, New Jersey’s law granting post-conviction access to DNA testing took effect. In 2006, the Innocence Project secured testing of evidence from the crime scene in Halsey’s case. Testing was conducted in state labs and at Orchid Cellmark, one of the nation’s leading private labs, which provided some of the testing pro bono. Semen and cigarette butts from the crime scene were subjected to DNA testing, and the results not only proved Halsey’s innocence but also implicated Clifton Hall in the crimes.

The accused gives consistently inaccurate statements during a “confession.” The police don’t care to make note of this as required by law, and aren’t interested in pursuing any other leads once they have their mind made up. Prosecutors fight DNA testing until a law is passed.

The IP gives a number of reasons why false confessions occur. Some of these factors (interrogating someone with disabilities, exhaustion due to a lengthy interrogation) were likely at play during Mr. Halsey’s interrogation. And law enforcement felt nothing was wrong with their approach. The truth be damned.

But hopefully there will be some justice in this case, as a federal appeals court rule Halsey has a right to sue the cops who interrogated him.

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