The decision Feb. 20 concerned two cases in which police lied to men they were interrogating. In both cases, the lies involved telling a suspect that a loved one was alive when in fact one had ODd and the other was brain-dead.
In both cases, records including videos showed detectives repeating and refining the lies throughout the interrogations. The court found that after a certain level, the lies could "overwhelm [a] defendant's free will," Newsday reported.
The appeals of both cases were closely watched as the justices considered "what is and what is not an acceptable level of deception and coercion during interrogations," according to the Huffington Post.
The New Rochelle case involved resident Paul Aveni.
Summing up the case on his Huffington Post blog, law professor Steve Drizin said, "Aveni's girlfriend, Angela Camillo, died of a drug overdose on Jan. 12, 2009, in Aveni's mother's home. Detectives from the New Rochelle Police Department arrested Aveni and brought him to the stationhouse for questioning. At that time, detectives knew something that Aveni didn't -- that Camillo had died. To get Aveni to confess to injecting Camillo with a lethal cocktail of drugs, detectives lied to Aveni, telling him that she was alive and that her doctors might be able to save her if Aveni told them which drugs he had injected her with."
Aveni then told the detectives he had given Camillo Zanax and heroin. He was charged and prosecuted by the Westchester County District Attorney's Office. He was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Drizin said when the appellate court heard Aveni's appeal, the judges agreed that the confession had been coerced with the implicit threat that if he didn't help save Camillo's life he could be charged with homicide.
With this decision by New York's highest court, Aveni's case goes back to the appellate division, Newsday said.The Westchester District Attorney's Office had no public reaction. "As the case is over, we don't care to comment," said spokesman Lucian Chalfen.
The second case involved Adrian Thomas, a man whose son had just died. Police told him the 4-month-old was still alive and doctors needed details of how he had been injured to save his life.
According to Drizin, "The recording of Thomas' interrogation shows how the Rochester detectives systematically broke Thomas' will by threatening to charge his wife if he did not confess, lying to him about the medical causes of his son's injuries (telling him that the doctors determined that his son had suffered a skull fracture as a result of a high-impact head injury), and suggesting to him that his son's death was just an accident. After Thomas finally admitted to "dropping the baby" on the bed, detectives then coached him to act out just how hard he "threw" his child on the bed."
In fact, medical records showed later the boy did not die of injuries but of sepsis from a bad infection, Drizin said.