United States v. Redlightning: Confessions Before and After Voluntary Polygraph Not Illegal as the Result of Unlawful Detention or Failure to Promptly

Nov 1, 2010

The Ninth Circuit Court affirmed a district court judgment of conviction on Monday, October 25th. The Court held that confessions obtained during and after a voluntary polygraph examination were not illegal as a result of unlawful detention or failure to promptly present the defendant to a magistrate.

Rita Disanjh’s body was found on the Lummi Indian Reservation in August of 1987. The pathologist was not able to rule out sexual assault but did determine that the victim had been killed by manual strangulation. In 2006, Athena Swope, daughter of Henry Redlightning’s deceased partner, Patricia Dubbs, told police that Redlightning had been involved in the murder of a woman and that she had learned of this from her mother in 2003, to whom Redlightning had confessed.

In October 2007 Redlightning was interviewed by FBI agents and agreed to answer questions in a polygraph examination. During the polygraph examination Redlightning was asked “Did you sexually assault and kill Rita?” to which he responded, “Yes.” The following day while en route to the arraignment, the FBI agent obtained an additional confession from Redlightning. Before the trial Redlightning unsuccessfully sought to have his confessions to murdering Disanjh suppressed. A jury convicted Redlightning of killing Disanjh with premeditation and in perpetration of, or the attempt to perpetrate, aggravated sexual abuse and sentenced him to life in prison. Redlightning appealed and the court of appeals affirmed, holding that neither the first nor the second confession was illegally obtained. Redlightning had not been in custody until his confession and because the first confession had not been the result of an illegal seizure, the second confession was not the result of an unconstitutional act.

This case is: United States v. Redlightning; 9th Cir.; October 25th, 2010;09-30122