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The question in each case is whether the defendant's will was overborne at the time he confessed. If so, the confession cannot be deemed the product of a rational intellect and a free will.
Defendant was convicted in the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois, on a charge of unlawful possession and sale of marijuana. Trying the case without a jury, the Court admitted an oral confession made by defendant only after the police had told her that state financial aid of her infant children would be cut off, and her children would be taken from her, if she did not "cooperate." It also appeared that the threats were made while defendant was encircled in her apartment by three police officers and a twice convicted felon who had purportedly "set her up"; and that there was no friend or adviser to whom she might turn, and she had no previous experience with the criminal law, and no reason not to believe that the police had ample power to carry out their threats. The judgment of conviction was affirmed on appeal by the Supreme Court of Illinois (21 Ill 2d 63, 171 NE2d 17). Defendant appealed.
On appeal, the Court held that defendant’s confession was not voluntary and that it was, under the totality of the circumstances, coerced. The Court rejected the State's argument that defendant's conviction did not rest upon her confession. The Court ruled that even though there may have been sufficient evidence, apart from the coerced confession, to support a judgment of conviction, the admission of defendant’s coerced confession in evidence was not harmless error since the same violated the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, thereby vitiating the judgment.