Notable Decisions and Other News

Decisions

Landmark Court of Appeals Decision Upholds Miranda Rights in the Face of Systematic Anti-Miranda Protocol

October 28, 2014

Today the Court of Appeals issued a decision striking down the Queens County District Attorney’s Central Booking Interrogation Program because of its unconstitutional use of a pre-Miranda preamble that “at worst mislead[],” or “at best confus[ed]” unrepresented persons about their rights.

Under the program instituted in 2007, the Queens County District Attorney’s Office interrogated approximately 15,000 unrepresented, indigent criminal defendants directly before arraignment, when they would be appointed counsel, using a script that undercut the Miranda protections. Every defendant was told to “give [the prosecutors] as much information as you can” just before they were informed that anything they said could be used against them. Interrogators instructed the defendants that, “this is your opportunity to tell us your story” and that, if they wanted an investigation, they would “have to” “tell” the district attorneys “now.” They were told incorrectly that this was their “only opportunity” to talk to the district attorneys just minutes before they would be assigned defense counsel.

The Court of Appeals, in an opinion authored by Judge Susan Phillips Read, emphasized that Miranda is a bright-line rule embedded in police practice and part of our national culture, and that reading the warnings is not enough in face of a “standardized procedure . . . that effectively vitiated or at least neutralized” them.  Here, the defendants, like thousands of others, were told that “remaining silent or invoking the right to counsel would come at a price.” The Court continued, “[b]y advising them that speaking would facilitate an investigation, the interrogators implied that these defendants’ words would be used to help them, thus undoing the heart of the [Miranda] warnings.”

Allegra Glashausser and Leila Hull argued the case on behalf of Mr. Jermaine Dunbar, Mr. Collin Lloyd-Douglas, and Mr. Eugene Polhill.“We are happy that the court has stood firm, refusing to dilute the fundamental constitutional protections afforded criminal defendants,” remarked Ms. Hull.

Ms. Glashausser added, “This is an important decision for all indigent defendants who could otherwise be systematically deprived of their basic constitutional rights.”

In 2011 and 2012, Ms. Glashausser and Ms. Hull filed direct appeals on behalf of Mr. Dunbar, Mr. Lloyd-Douglas, and Mr. Polhill, arguing that this script violated their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. In an extensive opinion issued on January 31, 2013, the Appellate Division, Second Department agreed and reversed the three convictions on the grounds that the script so undermined the Miranda warnings that the warnings were ineffectual.  The Court of Appeals has today affirmed that decision.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, the Legal Ethics Bureau of  New York University School of Law and Legal Aid each filed amicus briefs in support of the three defendants in this case. 

Press Contacts:

Allegra Glashausser: (212) 693-0085 ext. 247; aglashausser@appad.org

Leila Hull: (212) 693-0085 ext. 237; lhull@appad.org