Police cannot recklessly ignore possibility of false confession

Are police liable under the Fourth Amendment where they seek an arrest based on a confession they either knew was untrue or recklessly ignored that possibility?

In Sanchez v. Hartley, the Tenth Circuit answered that question in the affirmative. The case arises from a burglary and sexual assault where police interrogated Mr. Sanchez, an18-year-old with substantial cognitive disabilities, for an extended period of time.

Sanchez confessed to the burglary but not the sexual assault. He was jailed and charged with both crimes, but a subsequent mental exam demonstrated his diminished cognitive abilities, and the charges were dropped. Sanchez then filed suit alleging the police either knew his confession was false, or recklessly disregarded the possibility.

The police responded to the suit claiming qualified immunity. They asked the court to dismiss the case even if their conduct violated the rights of a mentally disabled 18 year old because they argued the law was not well-established. The Tenth Circuit disagreed.

Heavily drawing upon its decision in Pierce v. Gilchrist, 359 F.3d 1279 (10th Cir. 2004), the Court recognized that by the time of the interrogation in this case, any reasonable police officer would know that he could not rely on false evidence to secure an arrest.

If you have questions about abusive interrogation tactics or other Fourth Amendment violations, contact the attorneys at Bryan & Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.