Thursday, January 16, 2014

When police solicit confessions from criminal homicide suspects with lies

The New York Court of Appeals heard oral arguments yesterday in a case to decide whether a confession is coerced when it results from information obtained through a criminal homicide suspect's response to lies told by police, and thereby violates the constitutions of New York and the United States. The state appellate courts below split on the issue, as this ABA Journal article explains:

Interrogation-roomIn oral arguments on Tuesday, New York’s top court considered how far police can go in telling lies to obtain confessions.


Two cases were before the justices, the New York Times and the Associated Press report. In both, police said doctors needed the suspects’ help to save the victims, who were already declared dead. At issue is whether the police lies were coercive, making the confessions inadmissible.


In one case, police in Troy, N.Y., told several lies to Adrian Thomas before he said he had thrown his infant son onto his bed three times, and the boy hit his head accidentally.


Thomas was questioned by police after the baby was hospitalized for pneumonia and an infection, and X-rays showed head trauma, the stories say. Police told Thomas 67 times that the injury was an accident, and said he would not be arrested. They said Thomas’ wife would be scooped up if he did not confess to abuse, spurring Thomas to tell police he would “take the rap.” Another time police said the baby would die if Thomas did not help doctors by telling them how he hurt the boy; the child was already brain dead at the time. Thomas was convicted of depraved indifference and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. An appeals court upheld the conviction.


In the second case, police in New Rochelle, N.Y., told Paul Aveni that doctors needed to know what drugs his girlfriend had taken so they could revive her. The girlfriend was already dead at the time. Aveni told police he had injected the woman with heroin and had given her Xanax. Aveni was convicted of criminally negligent homicide. His conviction was overturned by an appeals court.

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