This is a unanimous pro-defense ruling from New York’s highest court. This is like finding a unicorn in the gumdrop forest. It involves the admission of a coerced confession into evidence during a murder trial:
Detectives threatened to arrest Mr. Thomas’s wife if he did not take responsibility for the baby’s death. They repeatedly told him he would not be charged with a crime if he confessed to abusing his son. Finally, they told Mr. Thomas that his son’s survival depended on his remembering what he might have done to cause a brain injury, even though the baby was already brain-dead.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, writing for the seven-member Court of Appeals, said those techniques, taken together, amounted to psychological coercion that violated Mr. Thomas’s constitutional rights.
“What transpired during defendant’s interrogation was not consonant with, and indeed completely undermined, defendant’s right not to incriminate himself — to remain silent,” the judge wrote.
The court stopped short of setting down a hard and fast rule about when police trickery crosses the line into coercion, saying only that “in extreme forms, it may be.”
Still, the ruling is an important guidepost for the police and judges in a rapidly evolving debate over false confessions, interrogation techniques and the taping of police interviews, experts on criminal procedure and false confessions said.
“What this decision does is give courts guidance on what constitutes an involuntary confession,” said Dorothy Heyl, a lawyer at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley and McCloy who represented the Innocence Network.
Art Glass, the acting district attorney in Rensselaer County, where Mr. Thomas was prosecuted, said the ruling was likely to force police departments to be more careful during interviews.
“The court didn’t provide any bright-line rule or set down any clear boundaries you can’t cross,” Mr. Glass said. “I think what it tells them is to be cautious, more cautious than they have been.”
Mr. Thomas was convicted in 2009 of murdering his son, Matthew, and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, a decision upheld at the Appellate Division. The strongest evidence against Mr. Thomas, 31, was his confession that, days earlier, he had thrown the child forcefully down onto his bed.
That admission came after *nine and a half hours of interrogation,* when a police sergeant, Adam Mason, told Mr. Thomas that doctors needed to know what had happened in order to save the baby’s life. At the time, the child had already been declared brain-dead.
Emphasis added. Yet another example of why it is never a good idea to talk to the police. They can lie, cheat, and steal their way to a conviction. You cannot trust a single thing they tell you. Every question they ask is geared towards building a case against you. That’s it. Adrian P. Thomas found that out the hard way. And he’s been sitting in a jail cell since 2009 for his mistake.