OGDEN -- The defense hopes to inform the jury about false confessions in the upcoming death penalty murder trial of Jeremy Valdes.
But first comes the approval process public defenders, as opposed to private attorneys, must go through to persuade a judge to order the county to pay for an expert witness.
Lead counsel Gary Barr estimates costs in the $5,000 range for the expert he hopes to hire, once he persuades a judge of the necessity in a motion filed this week.
In that motion, Barr quotes a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision that warns: "There is mounting empirical evidence that custodial police interrogation and its inherent pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never commit."
Summaries of the professional literature point to nearly 800 articles relating to false confessions.
And jurors, reads the motion, are completely unaware of the phenomena. "Expert testimony would dramatically assist jurors in understanding false confessions," it states.
The motion points to a 1987 study that found 14.3 percent of convictions in capital cases that were later overturned were based on false confessions.
And a 2004 study says of 271 defendants exonerated through DNA testing, fully 25 percent had confessed.
"Despite these phenomena, the public at large, and juries particularly, do not understand why an innocent person would confess to a crime he did not commit."
In answer, the motion points to mental illness or youthful, unsophisticated suspects.
And false confessions can sometimes occur when, "even though innocent, a suspect may reasonably determine that continued resistance is futile because the police have evidence that will convict him despite his innocence," according to the motion.
It also cites the "psychological tricks and subtle forms of coercion" of the so-called Reid Technique used by police on an isolated defendant.
"Police using the Reid Technique separate the young person from his family or friends and put him in an interrogation room, which is designed to isolate him and make him feel helpless and trapped.
"In the first stage, investigators try to shake a suspect from claims of innocence by repeatedly accusing the person of lying, refusing to listen to him, and by expressing confidence in his guilt.
"Once shaken, investigators offer the person a way out through confession. Officers will minimize the defendant's involvement or engage in other tactics to make a confession seem like an easy way out of the situation ... suggesting to the suspect that the murder was provoked, or accidental."
One study found almost half of all false confessions were given to protect someone else. Another said the "majority of false confessions occur in murder cases with persons under age 25 and among those with mental illness."
"The phenomenon of false confessions is supported by a massive body of empirical evidence," Barr writes in the motion.
And the courts have recognized the science as bona fide, the motion reads, citing case law that states: "The science of social psychology, and specifically the field involving the use of coercion in interrogations, is sufficiently developed in its methods to constitute a reliable body of specialized knowledge."
Valdes' trial is set to begin Sept. 17 and run through October in 2nd District Court.
Valdes, 36, faces the death penalty in the Nov. 25, 2009, killings of Matthew Roddy, 30, and Roddy's mother, Pamela Jeffries, 56, in their Roy mobile home.
Jeffries and Roddy were found dead in a closet five days after they died. An autopsy found 31 knife wounds in Roddy's body; Jeffries suffered severe head injuries but died from asphyxiation.
Valdes' alleged confession has been found inadmissible as direct evidence because of a flawed Miranda warning. Judge Mark DeCaria has ruled it can be brought up only as "impeachment" evidence if Valdes takes the stand.
Barr said he needs a false confession expert to, at most, examine Valdes' damning statements to police and, at the least, to inform the jury about false confessions if Valdes testified in his own defense.
"When they want to kill your client, you have to do everything you can," Barr said.
Deputy Weber County Attorney Branden Miles, one of the prosecutors assigned to Valdes' case, said the county opposes the motion as irrelevant because Valdes' statements likely won't come up at trial.
"It's a diversion of time and resources that needn't be undertaken at taxpayer expense."