NEW YORK, March 20 (Reuters) - A coalition of civil
liberties groups is asking a New York state appeals court to end
the Queens District Attorney's controversial pre-arraignment
interview program, saying it violates suspects' constitutional
rights and breaches attorney ethics rules.
In an amicus brief filed Tuesday, the groups -- including
the New York Civil Liberties Union, Brennan Center for Justice,
New York State Defenders Association, and the New York
Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers -- urged the appeals
court to rule on the constitutionality of the so-called Central
Booking Program. The groups say the program has ensnared
thousands of mostly indigent individuals over the years.
There are three appeals pending before the Appellate Division, Second Department, in which criminal defendants are
seeking to suppress evidence elicited from them during
interviews with Queens prosecutors before they were formally
"Any program where legally trained prosecutors intercept
unrepresented suspects on their way to court and direct them
into an interrogation room is unconstitutional and unethical,"
NYCLU senior staff attorney Taylor Pendergrass said in a
statement. "The program should be ended immediately."
In New York, suspects arrested without a warrant are
administratively processed before they make their first court
appearance at an arraignment. But in Queens, after some suspects
are booked, they are brought face-to-face with a prosecutor in
an interrogation room.
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.
'OBSCURED AND UNDERCUT'
In the brief, the civil liberties groups argued that the
interviews violate suspects' Fourth Amendment right to be
brought promptly before a judge to establish probable cause for
their arrest. They also said that suspects' Fifth Amendment
right to remain silent is "obscured and undercut" before they
receive Miranda warnings of their legal rights.
The program also violates prosecutors' ethical prohibitions
against giving legal advice to unrepresented adverse parties,
the brief says, and targets the mostly indigent suspects without
access to counsel during pre-arraignment proceedings.
The American Civil Liberties Union, Five Borough Defense and
Bronx Defenders also signed on to the brief.
A spokesperson for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown
declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
The Central Booking Program has drawn scrutiny before, most
recently from Acting Supreme Court Justice Joel Blumenfeld in
Queens. In a judicial inquiry, Blumenfeld questioned the ethics
of the program after a defendant, Elisaul Perez, sought to
suppress statements made to prosecutors during one of the
The DA's office appealed Blumenfeld's standing to question
the program's ethics to the Second Department; in a 2011 ruling,
the court upheld the inquiry.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye)
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