28. How Do Intoxication or Mental Limitations Affect the Voluntariness of a Confession?

  Very little. Defendants often ask judges to rule that their confessions were involuntary on the grounds that at the time the defendants confessed they were drunk, were high on drugs or had mental limitations. Unless the defendant was practically unconscious at the time of confessing, judges usually decide that confessions are voluntary—despite the existence of factors that strongly suggest an opposite conclusion.

  Case Example 1: Sarah Bellum is arrested for armed robbery, and confesses after receiving Miranda warnings. Defense evidence shows that Sarah is mentally retarded, with a mental age of nine. In addition, she suffers from attention deficit disorder and depression.

  Question: Was her confession voluntary?

  Answer: Yes. Judges routinely rule that confessions by suspects with mental limitations are voluntary.

  Case Example 2: Same case, except that this time Sarah's evidence is that at the time of her confession, the police had just awakened her from a deep sleep produced by her having ingested three tranquilizers a few hours earlier. The police testify that Sarah was fully awake and lucid.

  Question: Was her confession voluntary?

  Answer: Yes. While the drugs may have impaired Sarah's cognitive functions, she was not legally incapable of making a voluntary confession.

  Case Example 3: Same case, except that this time Sarah's evidence is that she confessed to armed robbery while in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. At the time she confessed, she was in pain from injuries she suffered when she was captured, she was under the effects of tranquilizers she had ingested just prior to the robbery and she passed out a number of times during the interrogation.

  Question: Was her confession voluntary?

  Answer: Probably not. Sarah's physical condition was so impaired that she was legally incapable of confessing voluntarily. (See Griffin v. State, Wyoming 1988.)