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NYCLU Challenges Queens DA’s Interrogation Program

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In a legal brief filed this week, the New York Civil Liberties Union argued that Queens District Attorney Richard Brown’s attempt to prevent a judge from reviewing his office’s program of interrogating people accused of crimes before they are arraigned or have seen an attorney should be rejected as an attempt to shield an unethical and unconstitutional program from the court’s review.

The case, Brown v. Blumenfeld, is before the New York State Appellate Division, Second Department. Brown is seeking to bar a criminal court judge from considering whether the interrogation program violates state ethical standards governing lawyers.

“The district attorney’s interrogation program is deceptive, unfair and seeks to mislead defendants into waiving their constitutional rights,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “It’s not only appropriate, but it’s necessary for a judge to consider whether this program amounts to prosecutorial misconduct. Basic fairness demands such a review.”

In a brief submitted Wednesday for the court’s consideration, the NYCLU argues that there is ample precedent supporting the judge’s authority to review the interrogation program.

“Criminal court judges have an obligation to consider ethical issues in cases before them,” NYCLU Staff Attorney Taylor Pendergrass said. “They must be especially vigilant in policing the ethical transgressions of prosecutors. Prohibiting a court from considering prosecutorial misconduct would invite further prosecutorial abuse that can deprive defendants of their constitutional rights.”

As part of the interrogation program at issue in the case, a detective or assistant district attorney reads a standard script to suspects, who have no lawyer present, misleadingly implying that the suspects will have no other opportunity to “tell us your story.” The interrogation occurs just before indigent defendants are appointed an attorney by the court. Courts that have reviewed the program have found it to be “deceptive,” “facially unfair” and “calculated to prime the defendants to relinquish their rights,” according to the NYCLU’s brief.

In addition to Pendergrass, the NYCLU’s brief was written by NYCLU Milbank Fellow John White, NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn, and NYCLU Legal Director Arthur Eisenberg.

To read the NYCLU’s full brief, visit http://www.nyclu.org/files/releases/QueensDAAmicusBrief_12.8.10.pdf.

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