Court of Appeals to Determine Police Deception Limits

, New York Law Journal

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Adrian Thomas waits alone in the interrogation room of the Troy police station
In a still from the documentary "Scenes of a Crime," Adrian Thomas waits alone in the interrogation room of the Troy police station in 2008.

The defense attorney insists that the theory of the case, which shifted from a broken skull to shaken baby syndrome after it became obvious the initial diagnosis was inaccurate, is demonstrably wrong. Frost claims that Matthew died from septic shock, and not from anything done by his father. That issue was hotly contested at trial, with experts for the defense claiming the child died of an infection and experts for the prosecution opining that the infection was secondary to physical injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome.

Egan, in her brief, said that "while the detectives' misrepresentations may have convinced defendant to divulge information that he otherwise might not have, it created no risk that he would provide a false statement." The prosecutor, like the Third Department, reasoned that a parent "genuinely moved by a desire to help doctors treat his child would only provide true information."

The Thomas case has generated national attention, largely the documentary, "Scenes of a Crime," that provides extensive footage of the interrogation and interviews with the detectives and jurors. "Scenes of a Crime," produced by Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh of California, has been shown coast-to-coast and was honored by the American Bar Association (NYLJ, July 23, 2012).

Thomas has also prompted a plethora of amicus briefs. The New York City Bar, American Psychological Association, Legal Aid Society and New York Law School Post Conviction Innocence Clinic all submitted briefs in support of the defendant. The District Attorney's Association of the State of New York is appearing amicus curiae in support of the prosecution in both the Thomas and Aveni cases.

Fatal Dose of Drugs

Aveni arose from Westchester County and mirrors Thomas in that the defendant confessed only after he was lied to by police.

Defendant Paul Aveni's 25-year-old girlfriend, Angela Camillo, died in 2009 from a fatal combination of heroin, ecstasy and Xanax, a prescription anti-anxiety drug. Shortly after Camillo's death, police interrogated Aveni, who claimed he had found the woman unconscious and called 911.

A New Rochelle detective, who knew Camillo was dead, told Aveni that his girlfriend was in the hospital and that doctors needed to know if she had taken any drugs so they could treat her appropriately. The detective also told Aveni that Camillo is "okay now, but if you lie to me and don't tell me the truth now and they give her medication, it could be a problem."

Aveni immediately admitted injecting Camillo with heroin and giving her Xanax.

After Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea refused to suppress the statement, Aveni was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and other charges in a trial before Justice Susan Cacace.

The Second Department unanimously reversed.

"The detectives not only repeatedly deceived the defendant by telling him that [the victim] was alive, but implicitly threatened him with a homicide charge by telling the defendant that the consequences of remaining silent would lead to [her] death, since the physicians would be unable to treat her, which 'could be a problem' for him," then-Justice Ariel Belen wrote for the court. "While arguably subtle, the import of detectives' threat to the defendant was clear: his silence would lead to [the victim's] death, and then he could be charged with homicide."

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