Retired judges want counseling for youth prior to police interrogation

Dawne Mitchell, attorney-in-charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society.
Legal Aid Society

Nine retired former New York State judges, The Legal Aid Society; Yusef Salaam, a member of the Exonerated Five; Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón; and a coalition of more than 100 youth development, academic, faith-based and advocacy organizations across New York State have called on Albany to pass and sign into law S.2800/A.5891, legislation that would protect young New Yorkers’ constitutional right to remain silent by providing them counsel before a police interrogation.

Sidney Gribetz, a former New York State Family Court judge, submitted a memo of support for S.2800/A.5891, writing, “An unfortunate reality of our current society is that a major portion of juvenile arrests come from under-served communities of our city, mired in poverty and poor education.

“In this regard the children and parents affected by police encounters are even more unsophisticated and at a disadvantage to navigate the system, thus placing them more at risk,” said Gribetz, who served as a New York State Family Court Judge for 20 years, from 1999-2019, sitting in Bronx County.

During his tenure, Judge Gribetz often served in specialized Juvenile Delinquency Parts.

“Accordingly, I feel that I have a unique perspective to offer on issues addressed by this proposed legislation,” he said. “I have observed that children who come into contact with our police involvement are scared, disoriented, traumatized by the encounter, while at the same time awash in the misguided brashness of adolescent bravado.

“Parents of arrested youths, once they get over the shock of their child’s arrest, if they can, run the gamut of emotions,” Judge Gribetz added. “They evoke concern for the situation of their children, anger and shame at being brought into the police situation, and naivete and unfamiliarity with the rules and rituals of the daunting criminal justice system.”

Judge Sidney Gribetz. Fordham Yearbook

Lee Elkins, another former New York State Family Court judge, in a letter to lawmakers, wrote, “The mandatory presence of counsel serves to counter the inherently coercive atmosphere of the police interrogation, provides a check on the impulsivity of the juvenile, and helps to ensure that another miscarriage of justice such as occurred in the Central Park 5 case will not be repeated.”

Barbara Salinitro, NYS Family Court Judge, Ret., said: “While I recognize that passing this legislation will likely reduce the frequency of juvenile interrogation by law enforcement officers, I also believe that these changes will provide safeguards to ensure that justice is being administered fairly.

“Every judge fears that the evidence she is hearing results in an unfair conviction or incarceration,” said Judge Salinitro, who, from 1996-2017, presided over all matters having jurisdiction in the Family Courts, including juvenile delinquency petitions and any pre-trial suppression hearings.

“A confession that meets the basic requirements of the current Family Court Act can result in an unjust outcome, because it may have been given to law enforcement without a truly knowing and voluntary waiver,” she added. “Consultation with an attorney will protect the rights of juveniles and will ensure a more just result.

“I support the passage of legislation that will require every youth to consult with an attorney prior to any questioning or waiver of rights,” Salinitro continued. “This consultation must be unwaivable; I support the passage of legislation that will require parents or guardians to be notified of an arrest immediately, at the time and location of the physical taking into custody, which will prevent any unreasonable delay as well as unreasonable circumstance for a youth to make any type of statement, whether under interrogation or not;

“I support legislation that would provide consequences for failing to apply these legal requirements, specifically the suppression of any statement that does not comport with the new regulations,” she said.

Dawne Mitchell, attorney-in-charge of the Juvenile Rights Practice at The Legal Aid Society, said: “This legislation would provide long overdue protections for our vulnerable Black and Latinx clients.

“Young people are not able to fully comprehend their right to remain silent or the consequences of waiving that right,” she said. “They also are much more likely to falsely confess than adults.

“By requiring youth to consult with counsel before they can waive their Miranda rights, this bill would ensure that those without the means to hire a private attorney are not disadvantaged,” Mitchell added. The Legal Aid Society calls on Albany lawmakers to pass this legislation at once.”

“As someone who lost years of my life as a result of outrageous treatment by the police as an adolescent, including a coerced confession, I know how essential this bill is,” said Yusef Salaam, a member of the Exonerated Five.

“It’s particularly devastating that, decades later, these egregious practices are still allowed,” he added. “This critical law is long overdue, and Albany must enact it this session.”

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, wrote that “this bill offers New York an opportunity to address racial disproportionality and set a national standard in implementing needed protections for youth in interactions with law enforcement.”

According to the Lega Aid Society, the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jamaal Bailey and Assembly Member Latoya Joyner, modifies the Family Court Act and Criminal Procedure Law to ensure that a child under age 18 must consult with counsel before they can waive their constitutional right to remain silent, thereby ensuring any waiver of rights under Miranda is genuinely knowing, voluntary, and intelligent.

Ever since the Exonerated Five were interrogated as youth and coerced into false confessions more than 30 years ago, New York State has failed to curb deceptive interrogation tactics used by the police, the Legal Aid Society said.

Instead, it said, young people, who lack the capacity to fully understand Miranda warnings and fully appreciate the long-term consequences of their decisions, continue to be subjected to coercive interrogations by law enforcement.

“This bill would ensure that all youth, including the predominantly Black and Latinx youth who are too often the targets of police interrogation, have the benefit of an attorney protecting their right to remain silent,” the Legal Aid Society said.

In addition to Legal Aid, some of the organizations who signed on in support of this legislation include Bronx Connect, The Innocence Project, New York Civil Liberties Union, Make The Road New York, The Interfaith Center of New York, Children’s Defense Fund-New York, and The Fortune Society.

Besides Judges Gribetz, Elkins and Salinitoro, other retired judges who have issued statements and letters of support include Hon. Ann Elizabeth O’Shea, Daniel Turbow, Monica Drinane, Bryanne Hamill and Paula Hepner.

The Legal Aid Society said that it exists for one simple yet powerful reason: “to ensure that New Yorkers are not denied their right to equal justice because of poverty.

“For 145 years, we have protected, defended, and advocated for those who have struggled in silence for far too long,” it said. “Every day, in every borough, The Legal Aid Society changes the lives of our clients and helps improve our communities.”

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