Defendant Should Have Been Allowed to Present Expert Evidence Re: False Confessions—Criteria Explained—New Trial Ordered
The Second Department addressed several significant issues in a lengthy decision ordering a new trial in a murder case (which will be the defendant’s fifth trial in the matter). Although the defendant’s girlfriend had testified against the defendant in prior proceedings, she feigned a loss of memory and refused to testify in the most recent trial. County Court properly held that the girlfriend was “unavailable” within the meaning of Criminal Procedure Law 670.10 thereby allowing her prior testimony to be read into evidence. County Court should not, however, have allowed the People to amend the bill of particulars which, in response to the defendant’s alibi evidence presented in prior trials, extended the time period in which the crimes were alleged to have occurred. The focus of the decision, and the reason for reversal, was County Court’s error in excluding defendant’s expert testimony about false confessions. The confession was the principal evidence in the People’s case and was the product of seven hours of interrogation, 75 minutes of which was videotaped. The Second Department addressed the issue in depth:
Here … the proffered expert testimony was relevant to this particular defendant and the particular circumstances of the case, including the approximately seven-hour interrogation, the videotaped confession, and the lack of physical evidence or eyewitness testimony linking the defendant to the crime … .
In addition to reports from two relevant experts, the County Court was presented with a 75-minute video of the defendant’s late-night confession, taken after the defendant was in custody for almost 14 hours and interrogated for approximately 7 of those almost 14 hours. Among other things, the video shows that the defendant, whose hands were cuffed in front of him during the interview, spoke slowly and sat in a slouched position for a substantial portion of the interview. Further, the officers repeatedly employed suggestive and leading questions, fed the defendant specific details related to the crime scene, and used rapport-building techniques. * * *
Upon our consideration of the submissions and opinions of both experts, we find that the defendant made a thorough proffer that he was “more likely to be coerced into giving a false confession” than other individuals. His proffer clearly indicated that he was intellectually impaired, highly compliant, and suffered from a diagnosable psychiatric disorder, and also that the techniques used during the interrogation were likely to elicit a false confession from him … . Moreover, in light of the foregoing, the fact that no one had videotaped the nearly six hours of the interrogation that had been conducted before the confession was made raises significant concerns. People v Days, 2015 NY Slip Op 06731, 2nd Dept 9-2-15