Monday, October 22, 2007
Allen R. Johnson has been aquitted by a Missouri court of charges that he molested his granddaughter after the judge ruled that his confession was inadmissible against him at trial. The 71 year-old Johnson reportedly admitted to sheriff's investigators that he touched his granddaughter's "private parts" and that he received sexual gratification from her touch.
The judge ruled that the confession was inadmissible because it was given at a time when, pursuant to a court order that the police disobeyed, Johnson should have been en route to the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center in Columbia. Johnson was then acquitted after the jury received only the alleged victim's testimony and no physical evidence.
A party in Missouri can request that the judge hearing a case issue written findings, but such a request was not made here, so the grounds upon which the judge ruled are unclear. Both parties agreed that they could find no prior cases with remotely similar facts to the case at issue.
After a brief search through Westlaw, I also found no similar cases. Confessions are generally found to be admissible as long as, considering the "totality of the circumstances," they are voluntarily made, and they are inadmissible if they are involuntarily made based upon, inter alia, overbearing coercion or police abuse.
Of course, if the mental health center found that Johnson was mentally incompetent, his confession likely would have been "involuntary" and inadmissible. But I'm not sure that his confession should have been rendered involuntary simply because police failed to comply with a court order to send him to a mental health center (assuming that he was later found competent at the center). Unfortunately, without written findings, it is impossible to determine the totality of the circumstances surrounding the confession and thus the validity or invalidity of the court's ruling.