A new law put forward by two Brooklyn legislators requires police to videotape all interrogations of minors to prevent cops from extracting false confessions.
The new law, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed on Nov. 27, is named after the Central Park Five, a group of teenagers that was infamously convicted of raping a Central Park jogger in 1989.
The five suspects, who were between the ages of 14 and 16, falsely confessed to the crime after police allegedly subjected them to seven-plus-hour interrogations that were often violent. All the suspects were convicted and sentenced to at least six years in prison.
It was only 13 years later, when one of the accused met serial rapist Matias Reyes in prison, that Reyes confessed to the crime and the suspects’ convictions were vacated. The five men sued the city and state in 2014 and 2016, and were awarded $45 million in settlements.
New York State has since passed a handful of criminal justice reforms to prevent the wrongful conviction of minors. One law, passed in 2017, mandates that 16- and 17-year-olds be prosecuted as juveniles rather than as adults, and a 2018 law requires that law enforcement videotape the interrogations of any suspect accused of a serious crime.
The “Central Park Five” law, however, will ensure that detectives can’t coerce young suspects to confess even in non-violent offenses, according to the bill’s co-sponsor, Coney Island Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus.
“When the power of law enforcement is focused on minors, we must make sure that they are not coerced or manipulated into confessing to something that is not true,” Frontus said. “What happened to the Central Park Five, who we now refer to as the Exonerated Five, should never happen to any child, and the way to ensure that is with the transparency that these recordings will provide.”
Outgoing state Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, who long represented Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant, said the new law will close the gap left by Cuomo’s 2018 criminal justice reforms.
“Even though we passed Raise the Age, there are still so many corners of the juvenile justice system that need to be addressed,” said Montgomery, who introduced the bill in the state Senate. “These coercive situations are not uncommon. Our children should never find themselves in a room alone with law enforcement and no record of the interaction.”
A committee within the New York Bar Association strongly supported the bill, though some of its members argued the bill’s vague language could leave room for loopholes.
“Videotaping in the juvenile rooms is not an onerous or expensive process, and is conducted voluntarily in many parts of New York State. It can yield a reliable, objective record of the police’s interview with the youth, which aids both the prosecution/presentment agency and the defense,” wrote the bar’s Juvenile Justice Committee in a November letter to Cuomo. “In an age of increasing accountability for police misconduct, the need for this law is clear to us.”