Videotape Of Alleged Confession Would Be Useful In Hit-And-Run Case
May 20, 2009
Attorney Carmine Giuliano was doing his best to create a little leverage for client Luis Negron, accused of the horrific hit-and-run that maimed and eventually killed Angel Arce Torres.
If a judge determines that Negron's alleged confession was coerced, as Giuliano strongly suggested last week, it would certainly complicate matters for the Hartford Police Department.
Giuliano said his client was kept up all night by police and given no food before the alleged admission and eventual charge, among others, of first-degree manslaughter. Police Chief Daryl Roberts has said Negron's alleged confession was not made under duress — and that Giuliano's stance only means Negron is still not taking responsibility for his actions.
A criminal attorney I talked to Friday night said no one should be dismissive of Giuliano's tactic or its potential ramifications.
If, in its zealousness to close a yearlong case that gained national attention and portrayed Hartford in a bad light, the HPD mistreated a suspect in drawing out his confession, a judge could rule it inadmissible.
Without a confession, this is a case lacking in evidence — police are still looking for the vehicle and eyewitnesses — which means it's not much of a case.
"They don't have any demonstrable evidence," Giuliano said again Tuesday. "What do they have? They have a hearsay out-of-court statement, which is mostly inadmissible."
I don't know about all that. The so-called hearsay is from Negron's girlfriend, also the mother of his child. If convicted, he could be sent away for up to 30 years. Her testimony will be very relevant — at least to these ears — and carry weight.
This is a case in which video of Negron's interrogation would be extraordinarily useful.
Connecticut is in the first year of a voluntary pilot program in which interrogations are videotaped. Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane is compiling data from the participating towns — Bridgeport, Meriden, Southington and Waterford — "to get a good sense of the pros and cons."
So far, none of the recordings have been challenged in court, Kane said Tuesday.
Making videotaping mandatory is problematic because not all confessions happen inside the police hot box. Some give up the 411 outside the station house. And even with videotape, a faulty recording device can compromise a conviction.
According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Negron's girlfriend "indicated" that Negron "told her that he was involved in the accident on Park Street where the man was run over."
When the cops told Negron about the girlfriend's recollection, "he admitted he was driving the vehicle that struck the elderly man on Park Street," the affidavit said.
The HPD, Roberts said, does not record interrogations.
More and more police departments, though, are moving to the video recordings, many times with apprehension. Eventually, according to advocates, they find that the devices are a very credible tool in court.
"In law enforcement they videotape everything, DWI stops, the actions in a booking room, crime scenes," said former chief state's attorney Christopher Morano, now in private practice. "So, the irony is where is the videotape of the most crucial piece of evidence in the case — the defendant's own words? It seems to me that is probably one of the most important things you want to preserve."
Having no recording doesn't mean the cops can't make their case, but it can drag out the court process. The focus switches.
Instead of deciding a defendant's guilt, the trial becomes one about whether police acted improperly.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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