Blumenfeld to Brown: Stop Deceiving Defendants

The saga of Queens Supreme Court Justice Joel Blumenfeld’s attempt to do his job in the face of District Attorney Richard Brown’s attempt to stop him has taken some  odd twists and turns along the way, but finally resulted in a decision. 

Brown’s writ of prohibition was denied last October, in a curiously cautious decision, freeing Justice Blumenfeld to rule on the propriety of the scam used to get defendants to give up their constitutional right to remain silent. Via  Dan Wise at the New York Law Journal, the decision is in :

Acting Supreme Court Justice Joel Blumenfeld (See Profile) ruled on April 16 that the Queens district attorney’s program of interviewing suspects while they are awaiting arraignment is “misleading and deceptive,” and violates New York State’s Rules of Professional Conduct.

Blumenfeld found the interview process deceptive because it “misleads the defendant into believing that the prosecutor is there to help him out” by suggesting that the prosecution will investigate “his side of the story.”

But, the Queens judge said, “none of that occurred here.”

Of course “none of that occurred here.” It was a lie. A scam. A ruse to get the defendant to make a statement by deceiving him into believing that the prosecutors were just a bunch of nice guys trying to help the defendant out by, you know, being fair and all. Because, well, that’s just the type of guys they are. Sweet.

Rather than suppress the statements obtained by deceiving the defendant, Justice Blumenfeld imposed the remedy of “preclusion,” meaning that the statements couldn’t be used by the prosecution in their case in chief.  And this is exactly what Brown feared.  With good reason.

In a statement issued after the ruling, Brown laced into Blumenfeld for inventing “a remedy of his own creation to ‘preclude’ the introduction of the statement that he could not legally ‘suppress’—a distinction without a difference but one that was selected in an apparent attempt to thwart any further appellate review.”

Brown continued, “His ruling is exactly as we had predicted in our prior Article 78 proceeding.” He called the decision “an attack on our office’s ethics done in a manner designed to prevent us from defending ourselves.”

Brown’s ire at this “attack” on his office’s ethics would resonate better but for the fact that the deception was outrageously unethical.  If there was any doubt, consider the statement by John Ryan, his chief assistant:

Chief Assistant District Attorney John Ryan vowed in an interview after the brief court session to pursue an appellate remedy and said the office had no intention of dismantling the interview program, which started in 2007. Since then, 9,744 suspects as of April 6 have been interviewed, of whom 63 percent either confessed or made a statement about the crime, according to statistics provided by the district attorney’s office.

The problem isn’t that the program has any ethical justification whatsoever, as it’s artfully designed to subvert the 5th Amendment rights of defendants and circumvent Miranda.  No, the problem is that the program is really effective, and they get a lot of confessions from it.  Of course, it would be really effective too if the cops could just break into houses at will to search for bad stuff inside.

Despite the length of time it’s taken for a judge to rule on the impropriety of this scheme (of which variations are still being employed elsewhere to get defendants to talk rather than exercise their right to remain silent), it’s still not over. What the Appellate Division, Second Department will do with it remains to be seen.

In the meantime, it’s important to note that this deceptive conduct, this scheme to screw with defendants by deceiving them into thinking that their statements could set them free, was ignored when challenged until Justice Blumenfeld showed the courage to do his job. 

This particular case has been going on since 2009. How many defendants have been deceived since then to get them to talk?  How many more will do so while this issue makes its way through the system?  And “Get Down” Brown is worried about his office looking bad? 


2 thoughts on “Blumenfeld to Brown: Stop Deceiving Defendants

  1. Dan

    As far as I know, they don’t do this in Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn, Nassau, Suffolk, or Westchester. As set forth above, the policy is clearly effective in getting defendants to incriminate themselves. So either the DA’s in those counties don’t do it don’t care about stopping crime and locking up bad guys, or the policy/practice is unethical. I suppose there are few more alternatives, but the lack of support from the neighboring DA’s is pretty telling.

  2. Lurker

    Actually, if the US had the decency to note that her criminal justice system is, for all essential parts, inquisitorial, this interview would not only be the right but also the duty of the prosecutor. The prosecutor should not rely only on the statements made by the police, but he should also give a fair hearing to the defendant.

    Of course, this assumes that the prosecutor would do this hearing in good faith, not using any statements given there in the court but only to prevent himself from prosecuting innocents. This isn’t possible in the real US justice system. A prosecutor who would release a defendant after a private discussion with him against the will of the police would get in trouble.

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