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Controversial Queens DA Interrogation Program Ruled Unconstitutional

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A New York appeals court ruled last week that Queens prosecutors' violated the constitution through their interrogation program, which identified people without counsel to interrogate before reading them their Miranda rights. The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in March of last year on behalf of the defendants, arguing that the interrogation program violated constitutional rights set forth in the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

Through this program, the Queens District Attorney (DA) tried to exploit people in their final moments without an attorney. Choosing only indigent defendants, prosecutors would take suspects in for interrogation and read them a script just before arraignment (their first court appearance where they are assigned counsel). The script prosecutors read to people contained statements such as "This will be your only opportunity to speak with me before you go to court on these charges," "If there is something you would like us to investigate concerning this incident, you must tell us now so we can look into it," and "If you have an alibi, give me as much information as you can, including the names of the people you were with."

Importantly, prosecutors read the statements to the suspects before they were Mirandized. In other words, people were not told until after the statement that they had the right to remain silent, their statements would be used against them in court, and they had a right to an attorney.

One of the people interrogated, Mr. Jermaine Dunbar, expressed confusion during his interview. He inquired if the interview was helping him and whether he would be speaking to the "DA" next, while he was speaking to the prosecutor. The Court found that the script the prosecutors were reading was confusing and violated the defendants' rights against self-incrimination and to right to counsel, resulting in a very damaging statement.

Last year, Acting Supreme Court Justice Joel Blumenfeld ruled that prosecutors had violated the rules of professional conduct, which prohibit dishonesty and deceipt through the interrogation program. However, a higher court had said he overstepped his boundaries.

Although Queens District Attorney Richard Brown claims that more than 100 innocent people had charges dismissed through the interrogation program, more than 11,500 interviews have been conducted since the program began. Justice Peter B. Skelos said during oral argument that the prosecution lost credibility with the court when they said the purpose of the interrogation was meant to help determine whether charges lodged against a suspect were warranted.

The Court's ruling in favor of the defendants demonstrates that it will not tolerate efforts to undermine people's constitutional rights.