Warney v. State of New York

Brief Filed: 7/10
Court: New York State Court of Appeals, Appellate Division, Fourth Department
Year of Decision: 2011

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 183KB)

Issue

At issue before the Court is the reliability of a legally voluntary confession in light of new evidence of innocence

Index Topic

False Confessions

Facts

This case involves Douglas Warney, a man with mental retardation and AIDS-related dementia who was convicted of murder based solely on a false confession. After serving a long prison term, he was exonerated by DNA testing. In March, 2010, APA filed an amicus brief supporting Warney’s petition for review of a lower court’s finding that he is ineligible for reparations because he caused his conviction by falsely confessing. APA urged the court to consider the body of research that was developed since the state statute at issue was enacted before confirming the statute’s scope. The New York Court of Appeals, which declines most of the cases it is asked to review, accepted this one and asked for a full briefing. That full briefing was filed by APA in July, 2010. 

APA’s Position

Consistent with the APA Division 41 white paper on false confessions and the two prior briefs filed by APA (Wright v. Pennsylvania and Floyd v. Louisiana) on this topic, the APA brief addresses research regarding false confessions generally, situational factors (e.g., length of interrogation, lying about evidence of guilt) and dispositional factors (mental illness, low IQ) that contribute to false confessions. The brief also explains research showing that police, judges and jurors have difficulty assessing the truth of a confession and that a false confession can overcome other evidence of innocence in the case. The brief further explains that the body of research on these points has developed significantly since 1998 and that the fact finders would be assisted in doing their job by allowing expert testimony on this research.

Results

On March 31, 2011, the appellate court decided the case 7-0 in Warney's favor. APA's brief was cited in the The New York Times.