The New York Court of Appeals ruled yesterday in the case of People v. Dunbar that the Queens District Attorney’s Office’s interrogation program violated the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, guaranteeing the right against self-incrimination. The program involved reading suspects statements that undercut their Miranda rights before explaining those rights: to remain silent, to an attorney, and that any statements they make could be used against them in court. The court found that these scripts are “at best confusing and at worst misleading,” undermining the meaning of the Miranda warnings and, therefore, violating the constitutional right against self-incrimination.
“The Court’s ruling demonstrates New York’s commitment to strong Miranda warnings,” said Nicole Fortier, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “These warnings are pivotal to safeguarding basic constitutional rights in the criminal justice system. They ensure citizens’ rights are protected in cases with the government.”
Within the program, the Queens District Attorney’s Office interrogated suspects in the final moments before an attorney was present. Prosecutors would take suspects waiting for public defenders in for questioning and read them a script. The script contained misleading implications that the suspect would have no other opportunity to explain their side of the story to prosecutors, encouraging them to make “Hail Mary” statements that would later be used against them in trial.
Importantly, prosecutors read the script to the suspects before they were Mirandized. In other words, people were not told until after hearing the script that they had the right to remain silent, their statements would be used against them in court, and they had a right to an attorney. Queens prosecutors’ have read this script to more than 15,000 people since 2007.
The Brennan Center joined an amicus brief filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union in March of 2012 on behalf of the defendants, arguing that the interrogation program violated constitutional rights set forth in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
Reforming prosecutorial practices are critical to reducing unnecessary prosecution and incarceration. For more on the Brennan Center’s work to reform prosecutorial priorities see Federal Prosecution for the 21st Century.
For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Naren Daniel at email@example.com or 646–292–8388.