Court Weighs Police Role in Coercing Confessions
New York State’s highest court heard arguments in two murder cases on Tuesday that plumbed the question of how far the police can go in lying to suspects during interrogations — even to the point of telling suspects a dead victim is still alive, but might survive if they confess to precise details of the crime.
The question being considered by the Court of Appeals focused on when a police officer’s lies in an interview room cross a line and become coercion. It is a question that has gained attention in legal circles recently, as more false convictions based on coerced confessions have come to light in high-profile cases like the Central Park Five.
“What is acceptable pressure?” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman asked Kelly L. Egan, a lawyer representing the Rensselaer County district attorney’s office. “What’s O.K. and what’s not O.K. in terms of deception?”
Mr. Lippman was asking about the case of Adrian Thomas, who was convicted in 2009 of murdering his infant son on the strength of a confession he made after detectives in Troy, N.Y., lied to him repeatedly during a long interrogation. Found listless in his crib, the boy, Matthew, was taken a hospital with pneumonia and a severe infection. Doctors also found evidence on X-rays of severe head trauma and told the police of their findings.
Among other things, the Troy detectives told Mr. Thomas repeatedly that the baby’s condition was an accident and that he would not be arrested. Several times they threatened to arrest his wife if he did not confess to abusing the baby, prompting him to say he would “take the rap.” Later they told him his son, who was already brain-dead, might die if he did not help doctors by describing how he hurt the boy.
After two days, Mr. Thomas admitted he had thrown the infant down onto a bed forcefully three times and had hit the baby’s head accidentally against his crib. The boy would soon be declared dead. Convicted at trial of depraved indifference murder, Mr. Thomas is now serving a 25-year-to-life term in prison.
An appellate court in Albany upheld Mr. Thomas’s conviction, ruling the tactics the Troy police had employed “were not of the character as to induce a false confession.”
1.) the police are not your friend. If you are ever arreseted or interrogated don’t say anything and demand a lawyer.
2.) police and prosecutors don’t care if they convict the actual perp just as long as they convict somebody.
3.) the popular myth is that defense attorneys are scumbags who get criminals off on “technicalities” (aka the Constitution). DAs are just as scummy.