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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

NYPD wants suspects to sign search consent form

The New York City Police Department wants suspects to sign a consent form before searching their homes or cars, a move that eliminates the need for a warrant and is meant to provide police a layer of legal protection, Newsday has learned.The initiative was put in place because consent searches are often challenged at trial - and jurors too often believe the suspect's claim that police never got permission to conduct the search, police sources said.At the same time, sources said, there has been concern within the NYPD about a handful of cases in which an officer's truthfulness was recently called into question.

In one case, a federal judge said he found it "wholly plausible" that a sergeant forced his way into a Bronx apartment to conduct a search despite the sergeant's contention otherwise. The case, for a fatal 2002 shooting, was eventually dismissed and the city paid $280,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit.

The consent form has been used by the FBI for years and is already in place in a number of police departments around the country, including in Suffolk County.

The New York Civil Liberties Union says the forms have an obvious upside because it adds to the record of a particular interaction between officer and civilian.

"On the other hand, we certainly hope this wouldn't be used to camouflage any wrongdoing, such as coercion," said Donna Lieberman, the group's executive director. "We hope the Police Department monitors how things work out and that the CCRB [Civilian Complaint Review Board] carefully looks at the implementation of this new protocol."

Robert Thetford, a retired FBI agent who works closely with state troopers on constitutional law issues, says a signed consent form is typically the difference between a jury believing an officer or believing a suspect.

"The bottom line is juries believe what they see in writing," he said. [Mark Godsey]

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