A script that Queens law enforcement officials read to a defendant in a pre-arraignment interview program rendered subsequent Miranda warnings ineffective, stripping the defendant of his constitutional right against self-incrimination and requiring a new trial, a state appellate court ruled yesterday.
"The preamble formulated by the District Attorney's office adds information and suggestion to the Miranda warnings which prevent them from effectively conveying to suspects their rights… When the clear and unequivocal warnings devised in Miranda are combined with the information and suggestion contained in the preamble, the message conveyed to suspects is muddled and ambiguous. Correspondingly, when the warnings are combined with the preamble, it cannot be said with assurance that the suspects clearly understood their rights," Justice Peter Skelos (See Profile) wrote for the Appellate Division, Second Department, panel in People v. Dunbar, 2010-04786.
He ordered the videotaped statement of defendant Jermaine Dunbar, obtained through the program, be suppressed.
Since the error in allowing the statement to be used at his trial was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, Skelos said Dunbar's conviction must be reversed.
The case was one of three challenging the interview program. The panel reached identical results in the two other opinions, People v. Lloyd-Douglas, 2010-03736, and People v. Polhill, 2010-01680, both unsigned.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said in a statement that his office would appeal the ruling.
"This office is committed to doing everything in its power consistent with the law to ensure that the innocent are never wrongfully convicted and that only appropriate charges based on the evidence are filed against the guilty," Brown said. "Our Central Booking Interview Program is an integral part of our making certain that justice is done with respect to each and every one of the cases that we handle."
Brown noted that his office had dismissed charges against more than 100 "innocent people" before arraignment because of the program, and reduced charges and lowered bail recommendations against many others. More than 12,000 interviews have been conducted since the program was instituted in 2007.
Brown said the script's wording was revised since the program began and "virtually none" of the statements the panel found objectionable are in the most recent version. Moreover, the office further modified the script after yesterday's ruling.
The Second Department previously had ruled that a Queens judge overstepped his authority in questioning the ethics of the program (NYLJ, Dec. 20, 2012). But the court had not ruled on its constitutionality until yesterday.
A number of defense bar organizations and civil liberties groups filed an amicus brief supporting the defendants in the current appeal.
Under the program, as defendants await arraignment, they are read a script by law enforcement officials and given Miranda warnings.