WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court refused Monday to permit prolonged, secret questioning of crime suspects, ruling that even voluntary confessions may not be used in a federal court if the defendant was held more than six hours before he talked.
Justice David Souter pointed to the number of people who have been shown to be innocent through DNA evidence, but who nonetheless had confessed to the crime.
Police questioning "isolates and pressures the individual," he said, "and there is mounting empirical evidence that these pressures can induce a frighteningly high percentage of people to confess to crimes they never committed."
The 5-4 decision upheld a long-standing federal rule that says suspects should be brought before a magistrate as soon as possible.
It set aside the confession of a Philadelphia-area bank robbery suspect who was held and questioned by the FBI for two days before he appeared before a magistrate.
Johnnie Corley, the accused, signed a written confession.
In sending the case back to Philadelphia, Souter said the confession cannot be used unless agents can show Corley agreed to speak within six hours of his arrest.
Souter said a 1968 law -- which applies only in federal cases-requires confessions to be excluded if the suspect was not brought before a magistrate and instead was questioned at length.
Also Monday, Death Row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal lost his bid for a new trial in the 1981 killing of Philadelphia police Officer Daniel Faulkner after the court said it will not take up the case.
Tribune news services contributed to this report.