When Nassau County Court Judge Jerald Carter threw out Caleb Lacey's videotaped confession in his high-profile murder case this week, Carter became the first local judge in recent memory to do so.
But as the Nassau County Police Department videotapes all interviews with suspects in homicide and serious robbery cases, and Suffolk police vow to do the same as soon as next year, some local defense lawyers say it may become increasingly commonplace for judges to suppress confessions.
That's because in the past, when a detective swore that he had obeyed the law while interviewing a suspect, and a suspect said he had been coerced or otherwise mistreated, the judge was under considerable pressure to side with the police officer, experts said.
But in the future, because entire interviews will be available on videotape, defendants who are telling the truth will have irrefutable proof if their rights have been violated, they said.
"This is going to make it tougher for police to make cases, but it's going to make it easier for a defendant to insist on his Miranda rights," said defense lawyer Stephen Scaring of Garden City.
Lacey, 20, of Lawrence, who was a probationary firefighter with the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department, is charged with murder and arson in the February fire that killed a mother and three of her children. He was the first suspect whose full videotaped interrogation made it to court hearings after Nassau police in January instituted a new policy of taping all interviews from beginning to end.
Last month, Carter suppressed the videotape because the sound quality was poor.
On Tuesday, the judge ruled that the detective who interrogated Lacey, Carl Re, violated Lacey's rights when he continued to question Lacey even after Lacey had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Carter ruled that Re cannot testify about anything Lacey said in the several hours after he "pleaded the Fifth," which prosecutors say included Lacey's full confession to setting the fire.
Defense lawyer William Keahon of Islandia, predicted that fewer suspects will confess now that police officers are under a microscope during interrogations.
"I think you'll see far fewer confessions taken, because detectives can no longer claim a cooperating suspect when they don't have one," he said.
But legal experts say that, in other places where police departments videotape interrogations, those predictions haven't been borne out.
Saul Kassin, a psychology professor and confessions expert at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said law enforcement agencies have found that videotaped interrogations have helped them gain credibility as detractors of videotaping have seen authorities get full confessions from suspects while following the letter of the law.
"What a tape will do is enable judge and jury to get it right," Kassin said.
Defense lawyer Brian Griffin of Garden City, said while many people feel frustrated when they see confessions and other evidence thrown out, it is vital that judges uphold the Constitution.
"Without following the rules, the odds of innocent people getting convicted increase," Griffin said.