The questionable tactics of a once-celebrated New York City homicide detective who helped secure more than 50 convictions has resulted in an in-depth review of those cases, as well as an inquiry into whether prosecutors too may have abused their power.
Our Birmingham criminal appeals lawyers recognize there are many lessons to glean from this.
The first of which is that often in criminal cases, the cards are stacked against you. This is true whether there is corruption or not (though inevitably, corruption tips the scales). Prosecutors and police want to close the case and move on. If they've decided you're the guy, that's usually it for them and they will throw whatever resources they have into ensuring you are convicted and locked up.
There is one person in the court room you can count on to be your unflinching advocate, and that is your defense attorney. That is why it is so critical to choose this person wisely. Some people grumble about the cost of a good criminal defense lawyer, but you have to view it as an investment in your future. What happens in that courtroom could affect the rest of your life. You may save a little cash on the front end with a cheaper, inexperienced lawyer, but it could cost you dearly in the long run.
The second lesson is that you can't trust the cops. This is not to say there aren't solid officers who do their job with the best of intentions, for all the right reasons and to the best of their ability. However, protecting your interests is not their priority, no matter what they might tell you during the interrogation process. They can and will say almost anything to get you to talk without your lawyer present. But this can lead to huge problems later on. Having a third party advocate present for all police discussions will not only prevent you from saying something that could be incriminating, it also reduces prosecutors' ability to later twist your words in court.
In this case out of New York City, the alleged violations are egregious. There had been whispers about the detective's work for some time. However, it wasn't until one man was cleared after serving 23 years in prison for the murder of a rabbi, that the other cases came under scrutiny.
It was revealed that in that instance, witnesses were reportedly bullied into talking. Identification line-ups were improperly conducted, so as to ensure that the suspect would be the individual chosen by the alleged witnesses. A crack-addicted prostitute, who served as a key witness in this case, also apparently served as an important witness in several other murder cases investigated by the detective (she apparently had a penchant for witnessing murders in Brooklyn).
Beyond that, it has been suggested that prosecutors were well aware of these tactics and chose to go forward with these cases anyway. In the instance of the rabbi slaying, one of the witnesses reportedly recanted days before the trial. However, prosecutors reportedly convinced him to change his mind and stick with the original story. The lapse was never revealed to defense lawyers, as would have been required by law.
The detective, now retired, has responded by saying the criticism is unfounded. He says the accusations are implausible because he would never have been able to eek out convictions using such flimsy evidence or such egregious tactics all of his own accord. About that latter part, he may be right.
If you have been arrested in Birmingham, call Defense Lawyer Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.
Watching the Detectives: Will Probe of Cop's Cases Extend to Prosecutors? June 21, 2013, By Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica