What will you do? Support your answer. Be specific and use the facts from the scenario. Then tell us what the effects of your decision will be. How will the defendant be affected? How will the victim(s) be affected?

You are a prosecutor with a background as a police officer. After working for 12 years as a patrol officer in the city where you grew up, you decided to attend law school. Then you returned to run for the office of district attorney in the jurisdiction that you had always called home. You were elected in a landslide win, but now you face a serious dilemma.

Weeks ago, the district that you serve was rocked by media headlines describing an alleged terror plot against your small city. The plot came to light when police arrested two men of Arabic descent and confiscated what they described as a weapons cache from the backyard shed of the house where the men lived. The weapons inventory included handguns, hollow-point rounds, AK-47 ammunition, and a number of assault rifles that further investigation revealed had been legally purchased after Congress refused to renew the ban on assault weapons a few years ago. In a box alongside a collection of handguns, investigators found two complete sets of breathing apparatus, such as might be used by firefighters, that had been stockpiled by some people years ago who feared biological or gas attacks in the wake of the terrorist destruction of September 11, 2001.

A search of the suspects’ house turned up a box full of pornographic magazines and photographs, some of them showing nude children. A crime laboratory assessment of a computer hard drive taken from the men’s house revealed that it contained an assortment of pornographic images, including some of children under the age of 12.

The situation grew much more serious when, following 24 hours of police interrogation, the men admitted to plotting an attack on the city’s elementary schools. As details of the plot unfolded, local newspapers, television stations, and radio newscasters reported that the men had planned to seize the city’s two elementary schools and lock the children inside by chaining the doors shut. The men, said the police, had then planned on setting fire to the buildings and escaping in the initial confusion after the arrival of firefighters. Their escape would be made only after many of the children had succumbed to smoke inhalation and what they had hoped would be a raging inferno. The men, they said, would survive the fire by using the gas masks.

A few hours ago, however, the attorneys appointed to represent the suspects claimed that their confessions had been forced and that the defendants wanted to retract their statements. They refused to enter guilty pleas at arraignment and wanted to go to trial.

That report and a thorough review of the physical evidence gathered from the men’s house left you with an uneasy feeling. Although you felt confident that you could bring child pornography charges against at least one of the suspects, you did not think that their possession of weapons and gas masks amounted to a crime. But the signed confessions now in your possession—if valid—provided powerful evidence of a terrorist conspiracy.

When you talk to the two police interrogators who obtained the confessions, their stories appear to differ. One says that the first suspect, a man named Akbar, had confessed almost immediately, while the second man, Khalid, denied any terrorist involvement but admitted his part in the plot only after viewing Akbar’s signed confession. The second investigator describes a different scenario, saying that Khalid confessed almost immediately after being shown photos of his own children and then being asked to think about what it would be like if he lost them.

You call the two interrogators into your office and tell them of your concerns. After only a few minutes of talking, the first interrogator, a detective named Steve with whom you had worked for ten years while on the police force, candidly admits that the confessions had been coerced. “Look,” said Steve, “you know how it is. We knew these guys were up to something—and it was likely to be big. We just didn’t know exactly what it was, and we weren’t sure we could prove it.”

“That’s right,” said Bill, the second detective. “We’re pretty sure that they were planning some kind of attack, but they wouldn’t tell us what it was.”

You quickly learn that both suspects had been exhaustively interrogated but that neither one had admitted to any terrorist plans. The detectives, however, had been secretly watching the men accumulate weapons and had seen them drive by the city’s elementary schools and linger there on a number of occasions. “We figured that they were planning to hurt the kids,” said Steve. “We weren’t exactly sure how, and that’s when we used the Tasers.”

Both detectives admitted to repeatedly shocking the suspects with Tasers during the interrogation session but claimed that the action was necessary. “The confessions are good,” said Bill. “They’re both signed, and we even Mirandized them before we started talking to them. And the Tasers didn’t leave any marks, so they can’t prove a thing against us, and who’s a jury going to believe—us or them?”

“You mean these guys didn’t actually say that they were planning to attack the schools,” you ask incredulously, “and that you tortured them, that these confessions are entirely fabricated?”

“Yeah, but so what?” said Steve. “We prevented an attack, didn’t we? You let these guys go now, and there’s no telling what they’ll do.”

What will you do? Support your answer. Be specific and use the facts from the scenario. Then tell us what the effects of your decision will be. How will the defendant be affected? How will the victim(s) be affected? Is this a clear right or wrong decision, or is it a gray area?

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