Court Tosses Confessions Over Cops' Lies: News Reports

A Westchester resident is one of two men convicted of homicide whose confessions were in effect coerced, New York state's highest court has ruled.

The New York State Court of Appeals says that New Rochelle police detectives' lies to a suspect in a heroin overdose case were unacceptable.

The state's highest court's decision Feb. 20 concerned two cases in which police lied to men they were interrogating. In both cases, the lies involved telling a suspect that a loved one was alive when in fact one had ODd and the other was brain-dead. 

In both cases, records including videos showed detectives repeating and refining the lies throughout the interrogations. The court found that after a certain level, the lies could "overwhelm [a] defendant's free will," Newsday reported. 

The appeals of both cases were closely watched as the justices considered "what is and what is not an acceptable level of deception and coercion during interrogations," according to the Huffington Post.

The New Rochelle case involved resident Paul Aveni.

Summing up the case on his Huffington Post blog, law professor Steve Drizin said, "Aveni's girlfriend, Angela Camillo, died of a drug overdose on Jan. 12, 2009, in Aveni's mother's home. Detectives from the New Rochelle Police Department arrested Aveni and brought him to the stationhouse for questioning. At that time, detectives knew something that Aveni didn't -- that Camillo had died. To get Aveni to confess to injecting Camillo with a lethal cocktail of drugs, detectives lied to Aveni, telling him that she was alive and that her doctors might be able to save her if Aveni told them which drugs he had injected her with."

Aveni then told the detectives he had given Camillo Zanax and heroin. He was charged and prosecuted by the Westchester County District Attorney's Office. He was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Drizin said when the appellate court heard Aveni's appeal, the judges agreed that the confession had been coerced with the implicit threat that if he didn't help save Camillo's life he could be charged with homicide.

With this decision by New York's highest court, Aveni's case goes back to the appellate division, Newsday said.

The Westchester District Attorney's Office had no public reaction. "As the case is over, we don't care to comment," said spokesman Lucian Chalfen.

The second case involved Adrian Thomas, a man whose son had just died. Police told him the 4-month-old was still alive and doctors needed details of how he had been injured to save his life. 

According to Drizin, "The recording of Thomas' interrogation shows how the Rochester detectives systematically broke Thomas' will by threatening to charge his wife if he did not confess, lying to him about the medical causes of his son's injuries (telling him that the doctors determined that his son had suffered a skull fracture as a result of a high-impact head injury), and suggesting to him that his son's death was just an accident. After Thomas finally admitted to "dropping the baby" on the bed, detectives then coached him to act out just how hard he "threw" his child on the bed."

In fact, medical records showed later the boy did not die of injuries but of sepsis from a bad infection, Drizin said.

Alex Umrichin February 21, 2014 at 02:49 PM
You'd think that almost 50 years after the US Supreme Court's Miranda decision that police officers would have at least a passing acquaintance with the gist of it and the consequences of not adhering to it.
Pam Green February 21, 2014 at 05:00 PM
Alex, I am impressed that this is so easy for you. Police are allowed to use deception to elicit a confession. This decision has to do with how far they can go in utilizing such deception. At least one of these cases was upheld by a lower appeals court. It finally made its way up to the highest court in NYS and a decision was made on this "fine line." Alex, God forbid your loved one went missing. Would you tell the police not to use deception to find out vital, incriminating information from a suspect?
Dan Weisberg February 21, 2014 at 05:07 PM
And one would think that before commenting on matters you would read the cases (not just a blurb from a news story) and would know that neither of these cases had even an inkling to do with Miranda; that both defendant's had been given their Miranda warnings (some more than once), and that they waived their rights under Miranda. These cases had to do with what level of deception is permissible during an interrogation after one has waived their right to remain silent; and if that level of deception effectively rendered the statements made less than voluntary and of a free will.
Sir February 21, 2014 at 05:54 PM
Police should stick with the evidence and should not practice deception. If police are allowed to do it, I encourage those being questioned to deceive as well.
Alex Umrichin February 21, 2014 at 06:12 PM
''Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive''. What is permissible is not always the right thing to do as these cases demonstrate. I don't have a problem with police practicing deception but the downwind results may not be desirable. In one case the immediacy may be mitigating but when there is no immediate reason for deception it seems to me that an arms length approach would be the right thing to do.
Pam Green February 21, 2014 at 07:37 PM
Dear "Sir," This may shock you but suspects don't need any encouraging to deceive. The ability for the police to beat them at their own game levels the playing field slightly. Alex, I am glad you have conceded that it is ok for police to deceive during interrogations. The "right thing to do" is to bring criminals to justice within the confines of the law. Those confines are being decided on by the highest courts in the state. Police have to balance on these fine lines which can be intricate. Its not quite as simple as implied by your misguided miranda post from earlier.
Shayna's Mom February 22, 2014 at 07:14 AM
Imagine how horrible it would have been if the father of the child who passed of sepsis went to jail!!!!!
Sir February 22, 2014 at 08:04 AM
Pam, evidence should be the determining factor of guilt, not deceiving a suspect during a lengthy interrogation. It's lazy police work.
Patrick February 22, 2014 at 08:38 AM
So are our police training academies now showing episodes of Law & Order as part of the curriculum?
Lanning Taliaferro (Editor) February 22, 2014 at 11:07 AM
Shayna's Mom, Thomas has been in Auburn prison since 2009, sentenced to 25 years to life. Read more at http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/ny-court-police-lies-suspects-unfair-22601362
Shayna's Mom February 22, 2014 at 09:41 PM
Ct3408 February 23, 2014 at 09:24 AM
Anyone who thinks the field is "level" is crazy. Cops lie and it is legal, it is illegal for us to lie to the police. Cops want convictions, not truth or what is right. Just look at all the coerced convictions that have left innocent people in prison. I teach my students in government class that cops are legally Allowed to lie, which shocks them. Name and address, nothing else! Why we cooperate with what had become an occupying force trained that we are the enemy is beyond me. Maybe mayor de Blasio will call and have me released if I'm arrested or come speeding in his gas guzzling SUV to pick me up!
New York Patriot February 23, 2014 at 01:59 PM
Unfortunately, under the current regime (Obama Administration) is has become increasingly acceptable to shred and destroy the freedoms and liberties and rights this model Country was built on. The President lies and deceives, the police lie and deceive. The people are reduced to government owned and kept sheep, left to tolerate, expect and even encourage this behavior pattern. Thank God even the most Liberal judges are still drawing the line somewhere. Lying to the police, or lying in a court of law, or obstructing an investigation in any way by providing false or misleading information are a crime. Law enforcement must be held to the same standards. This is America.
Pam Green February 23, 2014 at 04:14 PM
Lying to the police, at least in NY state, is not a crime or against the law. Please research it. Visit a local justice court sometime when it is in session. Your conspiracy theories may take a hit. Do innocent people get convicted of a crime? Rarely.
Ct3408 February 23, 2014 at 05:29 PM
Pam, you might want to leave the internet - the haven of conspiracy -- and read some reputable news sources -- or listen to a few. In fact, to lie to a police officer who is investigating a crime is a illegal and a misdemeanor in most states. I know some states are considering raising it to a felony. As for visiting the local justice courts, I have done so and know some very good, competent people in the DA's office. And as to your question -- you might read the Times, the Journal, the Economist, or listen to NPR or the BBC to delve into that question -- in fact, many people who are innocent are convicted and many are put to death through the use of "eyewitness" accounts or coerced confessions. The next layer is the level of institutional racism with blacks being convicted at higher rates than whites -- or receiving harsher sentences. What about those who can't afford an expensive lawyer in the American system? They certainly don't receive the same type of justice. Unfortunately, the "war on crime" (which I supported in the 80s) has swung the pendulum to the opposite side and now we find ourselves in a position where the strong, not just long, arm of the law is overly punitive and dangerously powerful. We also know from John Yoo's thesis on executive power that, regardless of the party in power, no executive has even given up on the power achieved by the previous executive -- regardless of the campaign rhetoric. So, rather than throwing a silly, ill-informed stone at a legitimate comment, you might want to do some research yourself -- and I mean read, as I have for 20 years, on the topic.
Ct3408 February 23, 2014 at 05:35 PM
BTW -= here is a good quote from the Daily News for you -- not my favorite paper, but it is a good example: Jamie Climie has been arrested for allegedly lying to police after claiming her cellphone with the pictures had been stolen. New York Daily News
Pam Green February 23, 2014 at 06:38 PM
Ct- I'm sorry. I was unaware that I was in the presence of an elitist member of academia, in the trenches of the four walls of a classroom. When you seek out the police and falsely report an incident, yes that's a problem. The issue here was being interrogated for a crime and the suspect somehow not being allowed to lie to the police. Not illegal. I thought liberals were supposed to be open minded, not judgmental. Your quote,"Cops want convictions, not truth or what is right." That is a pretty broad brush. Hopefully your students will be open minded enough to think for themselves.
Ct3408 February 23, 2014 at 07:39 PM
Ah, name-calling. What is it about people hating others for simply reading and thinking for themselves? Next time you are involved with a police investigation of a crime, go ahead and lie and see what happens. Obstruction of justice, obstructing governmental administration, etc. But you seem to know the law and think that all police and governmental employees are looking out for you, the citizen. Even when we are in court, we have to deal with the perjury of officers: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/03/opinion/sunday/why-police-officers-lie-under-oath.html
Alex Umrichin February 23, 2014 at 10:20 PM
You can't outright lie to the police if they are in the course of an investigation however there is also no requirement that you say anything at all unless you have an attorney present. It is perfectly legal for police to lie to you, which is a good thing to keep in mind. If you ever feel in the least bit uncomfortable with questions that police are asking it is in your best interests to say nothing at all no matter what kind of threats they may make.


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