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September 9, 2009

NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION FUNDS $200,000 EFFORT TO PREVENT FALSE CONFESSIONS THROUGH ELECTRONIC RECORDING

Westchester County District Attorney's Office is the Latest to Receive $50,000 Grant

Albany, NY - The New York State Bar Association announced today that it has awarded the Westchester County District Attorney's Office a $50,000 grant to conduct a pilot project in coordination with select local law enforcement agencies to electronically record interrogations of suspects in police custody. 

The grant is part of the State Bar's $200,000 effort to partner with district attorneys and law enforcement officials to ensure the reliability of interrogations and prevent false confessions. Previous grant recipients include the District Attorney's Offices in Broome, Greene and Schenectady counties. The State Bar's Working Group on Custodial Interrogations, chaired by Vincent E. Doyle III (Connors & Vilardo, LLP), is overseeing the distribution of the grant and collection of data.    

New York State Bar Association President Michael E. Getnick (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP of Utica and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City) said, "Recording interrogations will ensure that both the public and law enforcement officials are confident in the validity of resulting confessions. By providing local district attorneys and their law enforcement partners with resources to videotape interviews of suspects in police custody, the State Bar is taking important steps to ensure the integrity of the fact-finding process in criminal cases."

Videotaping police interrogations of suspects who are in custody has many potential benefits. Key among them are reducing false denials by suspects that they did not make incriminating admissions; reducing court time and costs necessary to resolve suppression issues; and better equipping the courts to determine whether constitutional and other procedural protections were honored. Additionally, recordings can provide strong evidence to counter false complaints of physical or psychological abuse.

A recent report issued by the State Bar's Task Force on Wrongful Convictions concluded that the electronic recording of all custodial interrogations in felony-level investigations would help prevent and identify false confessions. The task force, appointed by the Association's Immediate Past President Bernice K. Leber (Arent Fox LLP), also recognized the significant costs involving equipment, installation, maintenance, training, copying, storage, record-keeping, transcription and translation. This pilot program is designed to help local district attorneys' offices pay for recording equipment, monitors, computers, software, and other related expenditures.

The district attorneys participating in the State Bar pilot program have autonomy in deciding how to administer the program. For instance, each district attorney decides which police departments will participate in the program, as well as which category of crimes will be the subject of custodial recording.

At the conclusion of the pilot program, each district attorney is expected to file a report with the New York State Bar Association regarding the number of cases or investigations that were subject to custodial recording; the outcomes of the cases or investigations; the outcome of any suppression hearings; the number of guilty pleas; the number of trial convictions or acquittals; the number of complaints of police brutality or coercion; the number of claims of involuntary confessions; the number of defendants who refused custodial recording; and other relevant information.

While the growing trend in New York is to voluntarily record police interrogations, the State currently does not require electronic recording by law. Twenty-six of New York's 62 counties have voluntarily adopted some form of recording. Funding for this four-county pilot project was made possible by an appropriation from the New York State Legislature. 

Across the nation, 12 states and the District of Columbia require that interrogations be electronically recorded.

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The 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation.  Founded in 1876, State Bar programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.