Court bars confession by injured baby's father

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PORTLAND — Detective Erica Hurley told the father of an injured baby that he was a good man. She told him that his confession would go a long way toward helping his daughter recover and made oblique references to criminal charges if he didn’t admit to shaking the infant girl.

Then Hurley stopped an audio recording of the January 2013 interview for 25 minutes. Sometime during that gap, the father confessed to shaking his 8-month-old child.

The protracted interrogation of Juan C. Ruiz-Piza by the Portland Police Bureau detective, which lasted for parts of two days at a Portland hospital, and the detective’s implied threats led a judge to suppress the father’s confession in Ruiz-Piza’s trial on five counts related to child abuse.

On Wednesday, the Oregon Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court judge, while noting that Hurley never directly threatened the care of the baby, referred to in court papers as “G.”

“What the officers did do, however, was cultivate and leverage (Ruiz-Piza’s) fear that, unless he admitted to shaking her, G’s medical care would suffer,” Judge James Egan wrote in the ruling.

Hurley implied to Ruiz-Piza that his daughter’s care could be dictated by his confession, something the court said is untrue. Further, she appealed to Ruiz Piza’s religion, his paternal responsibilities and the idea that he was the only one who could help his daughter.

While none of these elements was enough on its own to induce an involuntary confession, the appeals court ruled that taken together, they constitute “an inducement through fear.”

Under Oregon law, all confessions are initially considered involuntary. A prosecutor must prove that they were made voluntarily, without inducement, for them to be entered into evidence.

“When Hurley stated ‘we have to have an explanation,’ a stark choice was put to defendant,” Egan wrote. “Either confess to accidentally shaking G and ... the officers would accept that version of events, or do not confess, and allow the officers to assume that the child had been abused.”