Thursday, November 20, 2008

People v. Jason Z. A Win For That Lawyer Dude: False Confessions Are More Frequent Than We Want To Admit

I achieved another big win for a client in Queens! This one was in the Grand Jury. No true bill equals not enough evidence for the Grand Jury to believe that my client committed a crime. In other words, my client was falsely arrested and held in jail for quite sometime.
Why? Because Queens Burglary Detectives coerced a false confession from him.

Here is what happened. My client is home "chillin'" and his buddy asks if he can drive him and his friend to the friend's girlfriend's house. He lets the kid drive the car since he knows where they are going. When they arrive, the second kid asks if my client will stay a second while he goes to see if anyone is home. Needless to say, these two "friends" are really trying to burglarize the home. They fail. They come back to the car and are acting strange. When Jason asks what is wrong, they tell him of their real intent. They are in a gang and they are pulling burglaries. My client tells them he is not interested in helping them and an argument ensues. Finally the second friend pulls a revolver from his waistband and tells my client he knows where my clients wife (who is pregnant) lives. The gunman tells my client to drive them somewhere and then to look out for them. He will give my client Five hundred. If the client says no, he will give him a bullet to the head. My client drives to where he is told. He hands over the keys and goes to the corner where he is to look out. He never stops however. He keeps walking to the Boulevard, catches a cab and goes home.

Should he have called the police, probably. Was he afraid of what might happen if he didn't tell? Absolutely. Like I said he is a kid, 20 years old, is married to his HS girlfriend and is expecting a child. He was holding down two jobs and going to college and pulling good grades. Never in trouble before, and scared.

Later that day, when his friend doesn't show up for the car, he starts to worry about where it is. He calls the friend but no answer. He calls his cousin and the cousin tells him that he will pick up Jason's wife from work and will get the key and go with her to pick up the car. Why would his cousin do this? He feels responsible because he introduced the two idiots who are gang-banging to Jason.

When they go to get the car, Police, staking out the car, arrest the cousin and my clients wife. They later also arrest my client's dad. My client gets a call to go to the Precinct and tell them what happened or they will keep the other three in jail. My client's mom calls a lawyer (sadly not me) and he advises the client to go down and not to speak to police. Right!! He didn't go with him to the precinct to protect the client's rights. He didn't call the cops to tell them not to question the client. He didn't want to get really involved until he got paid. I understand, but I do not agree. When I get a call like this, I tell the client I will meet him at the office and go with him to the precinct or I get him a lawyer who will be willing to go to the precinct and work out a payment plan with the client. I never advise anyone but a cop to go to a police station without a lawyer ever!!

My client arrives and he goes to the detective squad where he sees his pregnant wife crying. Cops tell him that if he doesn't tell them what happened, they will hold his wife and put her in Riker's to have the baby. He tells them what happened. That won't do. You will confess or she and your elderly father go no where. She has the baby in the jail. On the Floor. She will be in general pop (general population) where other gang girls will try to kick the baby out of her stomach as a gang initiation. My client has no idea that they are lying through their teeth, that they don't have a leg to stand on to hold his wife or his dad. He has no idea that there is a medical facility to help with pregnant women prisoners. His wife is hysterical she doesn't want to have her baby in jail, she doesn't want them to take her baby away from her. She did nothing and was at work all day (a fact that didn't seem to matter to the police) Jason is nothing if not an honorable kid. He signed the confession they dictated so his wife would be allowed to go.

Jason's lawyer (the one that let him go down to speak to the police alone)wanted Jason to plead guilty and go to jail for 8 years. Eight birthdays for his newborn missed, eight years that will dash any chance for him or his family to have a decent life. He decided to fire that fellow and he hired me. I heard the story and immediately told Jason that he had to go into the Grand Jury and tell them what happened. He did. The result was a "No True Bill." That means there wasn't enough proof to give the police cause to arrest my client.

How can this happen?? It happens because the police believe that a confession will end the issue. Juries always believe these stories and lawyers don't believe in their clients so the case will get pled out and no one will be the wiser. After all they are the police, they are always right no? NO NO NO.

One reason false confessions happen is because the police are allowed by the courts to lie. They are allowed to lie to defense lawyers, they are allowed to lie to defendants, and ultimately they lie to the court. It is an unspoken part of the game called testilying. Judges over look those lies in hearings and lawyers believe that if the confession is not knocked out in a hearing, it is going to hang the defendant at trial.

Another reason is that the police use internally coercive investigatory and interrogation techniques. The latest use of such subtly coercive techniques is in the interview of an eight year old who is accused of killing his father and father's friend. Look at how they investigators continue to play on the child's feelings. How they say "now is the time where we promise to be honest with each other... except they are anything but honest. They lie and tell the child about witnesses who will say something different from the child. They ask him the same questions over and over until he gives them the answers they want then they move on, a way of getting the accused to know how to get their approval. I don't know if the kid killed his father or not, I do know that if I was on the jury I wouldn't rely on the "confession" in that case to convict the child, and I wouldn't put much belief into cops that lied to a suspect and now claim to be telling me the truth.

Hattip to Gideon over at A Public Defender Blog
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