NY Daily News: Staten Island Courthouse Cameras May Violate Rights of Defendants, Appeals Court Rules

The Staten Island Courthouse on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News) (Jefferson Siegel / New York Daily News)

NY Daily News: Staten Island Courthouse Cameras May Violate Rights of Defendants, Appeals Court Rules

December 3rd, 2018

By Stephen Rex Brown

Cameras filming the first meeting between attorneys and their clients in a Staten Island courthouse could have a “chilling effect” that violates the Constitution, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The ruling by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals revolved around cameras trained on four booths in the courthouse that opened in 2015. The Legal Aid Society said the surveillance deterred defendants from speaking candidly with their attorneys before going before a judge for arraignment. The monitoring violated the Sixth Amendment right to free and open communications with a lawyer, they argued.

“The possibility that a pre-arraignment detainee could believe that the City is monitoring their communications and the consequent chilling effect of that belief must be considered,” a three-judge panel of the Appeals Court wrote.

The judges sent the case back to the lower court to evaluate whether the cameras are dissuading people in court from being forthcoming with their lawyers.

“Clients were aware there was a camera in the room,” said Legal Aid attorney Cynthia Conti-Cook. “There’s a tension between being candid...and knowing there’s a camera there.”

The city says the cameras do not record audio and are a security measure.

“We believe the current camera setup appropriately balances (the Department of Correction’s) security concerns with detainees’ Sixth Amendment rights, and that the district court will adhere to its determination that the DOC’s use of the cameras complies with the law,” a Law Department spokesman said.

Colin West, an attorney at the firm White & Case, said the ruling would likely loom large as the city considers whether to install similar cameras in other courthouses around the city.

“We think the decision has far-reaching consequences,” he said.