Brooklyn Boro

Attorneys expect new law requiring videotaped interrogations will help both sides

April 10, 2018 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Defense attorney Michael Farkas, immediate past president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association. Eagle file photos by Rob Abruzzese

Included in this year’s New York State budget is a change to the law that now requires all law enforcement agencies to video record interrogations with individuals accused of serious crimes — a move that has been long pushed for by the NYS Bar Association (NYSBA).

“This measure supports fundamental fairness and justice for all New Yorkers by helping both to prevent unjustified prosecutions or wrongful convictions and to secure convictions of those who have committed crimes,” said NYSBA President Sharon Stern Gerstman.

As of April 1, law enforcement investigators are required to video record interrogations of individuals accused of serious non-drug felonies. It requires only custodial interrogations at police stations, correctional facilities, prosecutor’s offices and similar holding areas to be recorded. Failure to record interrogations could result in inadmissible confessions in court.

As far back as 2004, NYSBA approved a resolution that called for legislation on the issue, and it has since spent years working with legislators, district attorneys and advocates to enact changes in the law.

During the years, NYSBA kept the pressure up. In 2006, with the help of Assemblymember Joseph Lentol, it was able to raise $200,000 in state grants which was used to purchase video equipment for several DA’s offices. In 2009, it released a comprehensive report highlighting issues, including false confessions, which can lead to wrongful convictions.

In that 2009 report, NYSBA determined that false confessions were contributing factors in at least 12 wrongful convictions in New York.

In Brooklyn, the district attorney’s office has had a practice of video recording all interrogations going back to the 1990s, a spokesman from the office confirmed. The biggest change locally will be happening within the NYPD, defense attorneys told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“This is the next logical step [in criminal justice reform] and it keeps everyone honest,” said defense attorney Arthur Aidala. “Defendants can’t say they were coerced and that there was a gun put in their mouth, or any other threats were made, to force a statement. Police officers can’t misconstrue or misinterpret what was said either. I don’t see any losers I only see winners.”

Michael Farkas, the immediate past president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association, explained that before he gets too excited for the change, he needs to see exactly how these policies are put into place and won’t feel completely confident that false confessions won’t be an issue until all interactions between law enforcement and suspects are recorded.

“The devil is in the details because we don’t know what exactly is going to be recorded,” Farkas said. “I have personally handled cases where suspects have confessed on video to ADAs to crimes they did not commit.

“The value of those recorded interrogations was obviously nonexistent, because the prior interactions with the police had tainted them,” Farkas continued. “Until all interactions with suspects can be recorded, either by body cams or otherwise, the risk of false confessions cannot be sufficiently minimized.”