Posted on 20 April 2012.
Posted on 13 April 2012.
The New York State appellate court is now hearing three cases of people who say they were questioned without a lawyer by the Queens District Attorney.
The plaintiffs were all suspects in custody for various crimes and were waiting in the courthouse, expecting to go before a judge.
Instead, they were brought into an interrogation room, asked a series of questions about their cases, and given the opportunity to speak about their alleged crimes.
The New York Civil Liberties Union says this practice is both unconstitutional and unethical because it turns up evidence that could be used against suspects in court.
The NYCLU claims the Queens DA has compromised the rights of perhaps thousands of suspects since it started this practice in 2007.
Parties in the three cases now before the appellate court can’t talk to the press. But people whose cases are closed can.
Deonte Jones : I was just like real uncomfortable with the whole situation.
That’s Deonte Jones, who was cleared of robbery charges this week.
On July 12th of last year, he was taken out of a holding cell in the courthouse by Mary Picone. Jones thought she was his public defender.
She quickly explained she was an investigator from the district attorney’s office, and took him to a room, where an assistant DA joined them.
Door Sound have a seat in that chair … we are going to explain to you what you are doing here …
In the videotape of the interrogation the camera focuses mainly on Jones, who’s wearing a blue t-shirt and a worried look as Picone begins.
Investigator: … okay today is July 12th, 2011, it is 6:56 p.m. We are present in the interview room of the Queens County District Attorney’s Office Central Booking Room.
She’s working from a script, meant for all kinds of suspects. It includes a long list of options for defendants about what the DA’s office can do on their behalf, like investigating alibis and other information.
Investigator: If your version of what happened is different than what we have been told, this is an opportunity if you so choose, to tell us your story. If there something that you like us to investigate regarding this incident, if you tell me about, we will look into it.
Jones is read his rights and agrees to talk.
This week —with his lawyer present — Jones watched the nine minute video of his interrogation.
Deonte: I felt like they tried to ask me the same question over and over again to see if I would change my answer.
On the tape, Jones says he saw a fight and walked away and he sticks to this, even after several minutes of intense questioning.
But other defendants have run into trouble, says New York Civil Liberties Union attorney Taylor Pendergrass. He says once the suspects are brought into the interrogation room, they are asked questions they think could clear them.
Pendergrass says the opposite is true.
Pendergrass: The District Attorney is strategically and, I would say cynically, exploiting this window of time just before suspects are going to be appointed criminal defense attorneys in order to take this uncounseled interrogations.
Pendergrass says the questioning violates a suspect’s right to get in front of a judge quickly. He explains that’s part of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures. And Pendergrass says there’s something else.
Pendergrass: The assistant district attorney reads this very misleading script to suspects that makes it seems like it is in their best interests, the suspects best interests, completely violates the Fifth Amendment Right not to self incriminate.
A spokeswoman for the Queens County District Attorney’s office declined to comment for the story, saying the city doesn’t talk about pending litigation.
She also declined to speak generally about how the DA questions defendants.
Pendergrass maintains the Queen’s DA has said in court that it uses these interrogations to exonerate people and dismiss cases.
Deonte Jones’ lawyer, Michael Siff, says the questioning confuses suspects about who is prosecuting them and who is defending them.
Siffe: I think that there are major issues because you have a lawyer that is there saying that they are there to help the defendant so the defendant is putting their trust in attorney, who’s putting forth promises they may not be able to keep.
The New York Civil Liberties Union has filed a friend of the court brief in the three cases now before the New York appellate court. It asks to suppress evidence gathered during the DA’s interrogations. But the organization’s main goal is to have the court call for the DA to stop the interrogations all together.
Pendergrass says there could a decision by the end of this year.
Mackenzie Issler, Columbia Radio News.
Posted on 13 April 2012.
Posted on 23 March 2012.
BY MACKENZIE ISSLER
It is an election year in Venezuela. President Hugo Chavez has been in power for 13 years and is facing a tough challenge from a united opposition. Chavez’s government also tends to identify the press as a principle adversary. Lawyer Oswaldo Mackenzie Issler talks to Cali, who works for the organization Espacio Publico, which defends freedom of expression and advocates for public information. Cali says Chavez has created a variety of obstacles for opposition media.
Posted on 23 March 2012.
BY MACKENZIE ISSLER
Host Intro: This month, the International Criminal Court delivered its first decision. It convicted former rebel leader Thomas Lubanga [Lu-BANG-a] of using child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Human rights activists hope the decision will deter military leaders from employing this tactic. For decades, as my co-host Mackenzie Issler reports, rebel groups and governments have used child soldiers to fight their wars. Mackenzie Issler reports.
The Mozambique Civil War ended in 1992, after 16 years of fighting. Reporter John Fleming covered the United Nations intervention after the conflict that left about a million dead. Fleming talked to children who had served as soldiers and learned the horrors they faced. (14:5)
Fleming: Sometimes, they would be made to kill family members in the presence of rebels, sometimes they were forced to watch the executions of others that were close to them. (13:5)
That was 20 years ago. But, this practice remains rampant in areas of conflict and instability. Military leaders who used child soldiers have gone mostly unpunished. Fleming is the editor of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange and continues to cover issues in Africa. He was in Sudan about a year ago and met a family who had been raided by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is led by Joseph Kony. Kony was the source of the recent viral video Kony 2012.
Fleming: The man and woman managed to escape with their sons, but their daughter was kidnapped and is now still a slave of the Lord’s Resistance Army. So, these things continue to go on. (13:3)
In the March 14th decision, the ICC found Lubanga for recruiting and enlisting boys and girls under the age of 15, which is a violation of international law. He used child soldiers, some as young as 7, in the Ituri district in the Congo during 2002 and 2003.
Geraldine Mattioli-Zeltner, of Human Rights Watch, said the judges’ decision helped clarify what makes someone a child soldier. For example, the judges described the use of child soldiers as a continuous crime. This means the crime starts when a child was enlisted or conscripted and doesn’t end until he or she turns 15 or is released from the armed activities. The judges also examined how the children were enlisted.
Mattioli-Zeltner: In the case of Lubanga, a lot of children were given by their families as an effort to war. A lot of them joined voluntarily. The judges found this factor does not matter. The crime is still committed. (22:1)
Also, children are considered soldiers even when they engage in non-violent activities like scouting, spying and sending messages, the judges said. The verdict did come under some criticism, however, for the way it dealt with the issue of girl soldiers. Lubanga’s group recruited and abducted both boys and girls and evidence presented in the trial showed that often the girls were sexually abused and used as sex slaves. But the judges decided that these gender offenses are separate from the use of child soldiers. And, Human Rights Watch agreed.
Mattioli-Zeltner: We do believe they should stay separate, because the sexual use of children, even though it was very prominent in Congo, is not a feature that exists everywhere in the world.
Human rights activists believe this case could help change legal attitudes and practices throughout the world. Other international courts, like those in Sierra Leone and Rwanda, have tackled similar crimes. But the ICC, an independent institute joined by 120 nations, could have a bigger impact because of its broad mandate and scope. But activists, like the executive director of Child Soldiers International Richard Clarke, say they know there is still long road ahead of them to stop the recruitment of children.
Clarke: I think the Lubanga verdict is an important step toward ending impunity for these crimes. But I will also say, there is some way to go until there is a patent of accountability, until there is effective criminalization of such activity. There is always the risk renewed recruitment and use of child soldiers.
Human rights activists and organizations want to see more people prosecuted for these crimes, like Lubanga’s co-accused, Bosco Ntganda. He is currently a general in the Congo army in Goma, eastern Congo. Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, and his lieutenant Okot Odhiambo, are also wanted on arrest warrants by the ICC for abducting children and forcing them to participate in hostilities in northern Uganda.
The United Nations estimates tens of thousands of child soldiers are still fighting in conflicts from Africa to Asia and Latin America.
The prosecutor of the ICC said a day after the trial that he will ask for a sentence “close to the maximum” for Lubanga. Under the court’s founding document, the Rome Statute, the maximum sentence available to judges is 30 years or life imprisonment.
A sentencing hearing will be scheduled for later this year. Mackenzie Issler, Columbia Radio News.
Posted on 09 March 2012.
BY MACKENZIE ISSLER
HOST: The Jewish holiday of Purim ended yesterday. To mark the playful holiday, the KJ Synagogue on the Upper East Side hosted a hamantaschen eating contest. Competitors had to devour as many of the slightly dry, fruit filled triangular pastries as they could in five minutes. Mackenzie Issler reports.
(Ambi under all narrations)
The first contestants started to arrive around 11:45 a.m. There were the amateurs, like real estate broker Robbie Wizenberg. It was his first eating contest and he had his worries.
WIZENBERG: I am mostly afraid of the big guy over there … if he runs out out of hamantaschen I hope he doesn’t start looking for mine. (
The big guy that Wizenberg was pointing out was Will “The Champ” Millender – the only professional eater at the competition. He wore a white t-shirt that said “Champ” on it and had a silver wrestling belt draped over his shoulders. He has eaten an array of foods in competitions. But, before Thursday, he had never tried hamantaschen, but he said they turned out okay.
MILLENDER: I was worried about like a chewy cookie or the middle but it seems like it will break down pretty easily and I will have a good eat.
Amateur eater Robbie Wizenberg loves the crumbly pastries, but he had another concern.
WIZENBERG:: And, I a am also afraid of throwing up on my shirt because I have to go back to work after this.
But, that’s exactly what exactly 9 year-old spectator Elan Agus said he was most excited to see.
ELAN: To see somebody throw up.
At noon, Todd “The Hungry Genius Greenwald”, the MC of the event asked for a countdown.
AMBI/GREENWALD: Five, four, three, two, one, Go! And they are off and they are eating …. Will “The Champ” Millender, at the center of the table, is setting the pace is setting the pace.
Seven of the eight men sat in front of two heaping plates of the kosher pastries. Will “The Champ Millender” stood, shoveling the pastries into his mouth, while he body bounced up and down. The audience was almost silent as they watched in awe, but the event’s MC, Todd “The Hungry Genius,” knew the other competitors needed some support from the audience.
AMBI/GREENWALD: Ladies and gentleman of the crowd, it is very silent, what I need you to need is to cheer for the eater that you want to win … the more noise you make, the faster these eaters will be eating the hamantaschen … cheering … rabbi, rabbi …. (:23) (fade another next narration)
The crowd favorite was Rabbi Elie Weinstout, who presides over the synagogue the hosted the event. As the final minute approached, the crowd really started to shower him with adoration.
AMBI/GREENWALD/CROWD: Rabbi Weinstout … 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 2, 1 …… cheers
Everyone swallowed their last bites and the cookie crumbs settled. To no one’s surprise, Will The Champ Millender took top honors, eating 25 pastries. Robbie Wizenberg came in first place among the amateurs, after he ate 14 pastries. Wizenberg won a free ticket to Israel frm El Al Israel Airlines, which hosted the event. Rabbi Weinstout came in second.
Wizenberg said there was one downside to his victory.
WIZENBERG: The taste of a hamantaschen which I love so much actually started to gross me out. But I had to power through it. I am actually going to a Purim thing later today and I am definitely not going to have any hamantaschen.
Wizenberg hopes he’ll be able to enjoy the pastry by next Purim.
Mackenzie Issler, Columbia Radio News.