Police can lie when interrogating suspects, but when the lies become "patently coercive," any confession cannot be used as evidence, New York's highest court ruled Thursday.
Ruling unanimously, the Court of Appeals threw out the murder conviction of 31-year-old Adrian Thomas, whose infant son died with a head injury and infection in 2008, and ordered a new trial without the Troy man's purported confession.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman wrote that Troy investigators' lies became "a set of highly coercive deceptions" as they tried for hours to coax a confession from Thomas.
Investigators told Thomas they would next pick up his wife if he didn't confess to injuring his son. They told him that his child — though already brain dead, which Thomas didn't know — would die if he didn't explain how the boy hit his head, Lippman wrote. They also told Thomas 67 times it was an accident, 14 times that he wouldn't be arrested and eight times that he would be going home.
"It is well established that not all deception of a suspect is coercive, but in extreme forms it may be," Lippman wrote. In Thomas' case, the interrogation "completely undermined" his right to remain silent and not incriminate himself, the judge wrote.