Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sixth Amendment rights

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals issued an opinion in January that certain behavior by a Monroe County detective violated the rights of a defendant. Specifically this kind of behavior:
pretending to be a licensed attorney willing to undertake representation of the defendant...The detective went so far as to create letterhead, have the letters delivered in the same manner as other legal mail, and to manipulate the circumstances of the defendant’s case to make it appear as though the fictitious attorneys were securing positive results in their representation of the defendant.
The detectives were so convincing that the defendant's actual public defender asked for a psychiatric evaluation of her client, who faced theft and drug possession charges, and who insisted that he was represented by a "federal" lawyer.

The public defender asked the lower court for a continuation in proceedings based on the revelation that her client had been duped with the help of a jailhouse snitch and deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The trial court denied the motion to continue, saying that the defendant made “a real dumb decision,” and had “picked his poison." The trial court did not hear testimony from the detectives on their misconduct, because these detectives invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

But the state appellate court reversed this decision:
Because the egregious actions of the law enforcement officers in this case substantially and profoundly interfered with the defendant’s right to counsel under the state and federal constitutions, we reverse the judgment of the trial court denying the motion to dismiss, vacate the defendant’s guilty pleas, and dismiss the indictment in each of the four cases.

Seth Greenfield suggests that "[i]t would certainly behoove law enforcement officers who think they've come up with a novel, brilliant scheme to beat the Constitution and get their hands on information they would otherwise never be able to get, to ascertain whether it's permitted before engaging in their scheme."

Radley Balko wonders what discipline, if any, the deceptive detectives face.

Tricking defendants into self-incrimination isn't the exclusive behavior of cops in Podunk province. William J. Gorta of the New York Post broke the story last October of a Queens district attorney suing to keep a judge from ruling on the ethics of a program run by the DA's office.

It's a program where "prosecutors question indigent suspects in Central Booking before they're arraigned and assigned a lawyer."

Prosecutors plied suspects, claiming to want to give them the opportunity to tell their side of the story. Suspects who could afford and had retained private counsel were not subjected to the interviews.

The 5,600 interviews led to more than 1,100 confessions from suspects. Another 2,400 made statements about the crime. All of them may have had their Miranda rights watered down.

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