Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblyman Clyde Vanel have been working with the Innocence Project to draft a bill (S.324/A.6570) that addresses the issue of deceptive interrogations that lead to false confessions and convictions.
The bill proposed by the Innocence Project and sponsored by Sen. Myrie and Assemblyman Vanel seeks to provide increased protection against false confessions or false incrimination of those who are to be interrogated. The bill would also aim to provide the collection of recorded interrogations.
In 1989, five teenage men were wrongly convicted of raping a woman in Central Park. Today, they are widely known as the “Exonerated 5.” It took 13 years in prison and the DNA evidence of the real perpetrator to overturn their wrongful convictions. The process of deceptive interrogation had compelled the five men to feel guilt even in wrongful convictions.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations and the S.324 bill memo, from 1989-2015, there were 1,600 exonerations, and over that period, New York ranked second only to Texas with 189 exonerations. Kings County, Bronx County, and New York County had the 5th, 6th, and 7th most exonerations. It is also stated that in 2018 alone, New York tied Texas for the second most false convictions in the United States. Out of the 151 exonerations nationwide, 107 included official misconduct, and 19 included false confessions.
“As we’ve seen time and again, false criminal confessions can lead to wrongful convictions, with devastating consequences for innocent people and their families,” Sen. Myrie said. “Deceptive interrogations don’t just entrap innocent people; they are also shoddy police work. My legislation would ban these coercive practices by police, and ensure that confessions are independently assessed for reliability.”
Martin Tankleff, then 17, woke up on a September morning in 1988 to find that his parents, Arlene and Seymour, had been murdered in the family’s Long Island home. In 1990, Tankleff, now a Long Island attorney, was convicted of killing them and sent to prison and was released in 2007.
According to a report in the New York Times, Tankleff’s conviction was based on a confession that was written by a detective and then attributed to Tankleff. The detective had told Tankleff during his interrogation that investigators had found forensic evidence incriminating him, and that his father had woken from a coma and accused him of the killing. However, his father had never woken up.
According to the lawsuit, Tankleff was “encouraged by the detectives to believe he could have experienced a ‘blackout’ and killed his parents without remembering it.”
The detectives then described their version of events to Tankleff, persuaded him to acknowledge it, and wrote out a confession that made it seem as though Tankleff had volunteered the account, according to the lawsuit. Tankleff never signed the confession and quickly renounced it, but was still convicted. Tankleff described the interrogation process to be psychological torture and “had no way to defend himself except for the truth.”
“The use of deceit during an interrogation accomplishes nothing more than fear and destabilization of innocent suspects and sets the stage for miscarriages of justice, like [Tankleff’s],” said Rebecca Brown, director of policy at The Innocence Project. “Law enforcement deception not only devastates lives; it destroys trust with the community. It is high time that New York rejects evidence built on deception.”