2012-04-20 / Top Stories

Judge Blumenfeld Says No On Interrogation To DA Brown

By Howard Schwach

Judge Joel Blumenfeld Judge Joel Blumenfeld Queens Supreme Court Justice Joel L. Blumenfeld ruled on Tuesday that the Queens District Attorney’s program of interviewing suspects while they are awaiting arraignment is “misleading and deceptive” and violates New York State’s Rules of Professional Conduct.

Blumenfeld’s decision is the latest in a series of skirmishes between District Attorney Richard Brown and the judge over such issues as the interviewing process and the notorious Kareem Bellamy case, which has been chronicled in the pages of The Wave for the past three years.

In the latest case, Blumenfeld found the interview process deceptive because it “misleads the defendant into believing that the prosecutor is there to help him out” by suggesting that the prosecution will investigate “his side of the story.”

“But none of that occurred here,” Blumenfeld found.

As a “sanction” for the ethics violation, Justice Blumenfeld ruled that the office of district attorney is precluded from using in its direct case a statement that a defendant made in 2009 during questioning at the Kew Gardens Criminal Courthouse.

Blumenfeld stopped short of suppressing the statement, ruling that he was unable to determine whether the circumstances of the interview had impaired the suspect’s ability to make an informed decision about speaking to a prosecutor and detective.

The district attorney previously had gone to the Appellate Division, Second Department, to block the justice’s exploration of prosecutorial ethics at a suppression hearing. But the appellate court rejected Brown’s request for a writ of prohibition.

Blumenfeld’s decision to “sanction” the prosecution, rather than to throw out the defendant’s statement, raises a question as to whether the prosecutor’s office will be able to appeal. The prosecution by statute is entitled to appeal a ruling suppressing evidence if it certifies that the suppressed evidence is essential to its case.

Assistant District Attorney Donna Aldea, who handled the prosecution’s argument before the appellate court, further criticized Justice Blumenfeld for couching his ruling in a manner calculated to “deprive the prosecution of the ability to appeal.”

“This is exactly the harm that we said would occur when we brought the Article 78,” seeking to block Justice Blumenfeld from proceeding to examine the ethics of the interview procedure, she told the Law Journal.

As of mid-February, the district attorney’s office said that 9,382 suspects have been asked since 2007 if they wished to be interviewed. Three quarters of the suspects agreed to talk without a lawyer present. No questioning was conducted of those who invoked their Constitutional rights.

Confessions were then received from 20 percent of those who were asked to be interviewed. In addition, according to data current through the end of January, the prosecutors at the interviews did not press charges against 84 suspects because they were convinced by the suspects’ statements and/or demeanor that they were actually innocent.

Blumenfeld’s decision will put an end to the pre-arraignment interviews, but a spokesperson for Brown vowed to appeal the decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

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