By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Jan 30 (Reuters) - A New York appeals court ruled
Wednesday that Queens prosecutors' controversial pre-arraignment
interview program violated suspects' constitutional rights.
The Appellate Division, Second Department, threw out
videotaped statements given by three defendants who were
interviewed during the program, in which prosecutors meet with
suspects in central booking before they have been assigned
Prosecutors read from a scripted "preamble" that encourages
suspects to tell their version of the events leading up to their
The preamble undermined the defendants' understanding of
their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney, the
Second Department held in a unanimous opinion.
Miranda warnings are read to suspects in police custody
before they are interrogated, according to the Queens district
"When the clear and unequivocal warnings devised in Miranda
are combined with the information and suggestion contained in
the preamble, the message conveyed to suspects is muddled and
ambiguous," Justice Peter Skelos wrote for the court.
"Correspondingly, when the warnings are combined with the
preamble, it cannot be said with assurance that the suspects
clearly understood their rights."
Skelos was joined in the opinion by Justices Ruth Balkin,
John Leventhal and Jeffrey Cohen.
The court ordered new trials for defendants Jermaine Dunbar,
Eugene Polhill and Collin Lloyd-Douglas.
In a statement, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown
defended the program and said that no suspect had ever been
interviewed without receiving a Miranda warning. Virtually all
of the statements that the Second Department took issue with are
no longer part of the interview script, he said.
"Nonetheless, we intend to seek leave to appeal to the Court
of Appeals and have revised our current introductory remarks in
response to today's decision," Brown said.
100 INNOCENT PEOPLE
The three defendants are among more than 11,500 individuals
who have taken part in the interview program, called the Central
Booking Interview Program, since it began in 2007.
During videotaped interviews, suspects are told to turn over
any information regarding their alibi, potential witnesses and
their version of events so that prosecutors can investigate.
Prosecutors warn that it is the suspect's last chance to give
his side of the story before facing a judge.
The Queens district attorney's office has defended the
program, saying it allows suspects to give potentially
exonerating evidence to prosecutors to help clear their names.
The program has resulted in the dismissal of charges against
more than 100 innocent people before they were arraigned and
helped provide evidence that led to reduced charges or bail
requests, Brown said Wednesday.
Attorneys for the defendants said they were pleased with the
court's ruling. "These decisions are important not only for our
three individual clients," said Allegra Glashausser and Leila
Hull of Appellate Advocates in a statement but, but also for the
thousands of past and future defendants who were or could be
confused or misled about their fundamental constitutional
The ruling is the latest twist in the legal battle over the
pre-arraignment interview program.
Last year, Acting Supreme Court Justice Joel Blumenfeld
ruled that prosecutors had violated Rule 8.4(c) of the American
Bar Association's Rules of Professional Conduct when they
questioned robbery suspect Elisaul Perez as part of the program.
Rule 8.4(c) prohibits attorneys from engaging in "dishonesty,
fraud, deceit or misrepresentation."
In December, the Second Department blocked Blumenfeld's
order, saying he had overstepped his authority.
The cases are People v. Jermaine Dunbar, People v. Collin
Lloyd-Douglas and People v. Eugene Polhill, New York Supreme
Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, Nos. 2010-04786,
2010-03736 and 2010-1680.
For the defendants: Leila Hull and Allegra Glashausser of
For the Queens DA: Gary Fidel and Donna Aldea.
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