Young robbery suspect takes plea deal

Mar. 10, 2014 @ 07:13 PM

Prosecutors on Monday made a plea deal with a robbery suspect who’d complained about Durham police recording a tearful interrogation-room conversation between him and his mother.

The deal left Willie Hayes, who was 17 when he was arrested in 2012, on two years’ probation. He took a plea in which he wouldn’t admit guilt while not contesting a charge of conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon.

It also covered an otherwise unrelated charge of misdemeanor assault, said Alex Charns, Hayes’ lawyer.

The agreement thus reduced Hayes’ legal liability, as he’d initially faced counts of robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy and felony breaking and entering.

Charns added that the deal also included a court order that seals the “electronic surveillance records” of the Durham Police Department concerning Hayes.

That addressed the interrogation-room talk between Hayes and his mother, which Charns had tried to get excluded from evidence.

Detectives taped their questioning of Hayes in accord with a 2011 state law that requires law enforcement agencies to make at least an audio recording of any custodial interrogation of a juvenile.

In Hayes’ case, the tape was still rolling when detectives let his mother go into the room to talk to him. She berated him, and Hayes “made disclosures” to her that wound up being used in the prosecution, Charns said in January.

Charns argued that by recording a private talk between mother and son, the police violated state and federal wiretapping laws.

In making the plea deal, however, prosecutors made a point of saying they denied that Hayes’ rights were violated, Charns said.

The deal also ended the case before a trial judge ruled on Charns’ evidence-suppression motion.

Charns had argued that neither Hayes nor his mother knew they were being recorded. He sought public records on the Police Department’s policies governing the matter and learned that it had decided to post additional signs in this facilities warning people they’re subject to being recorded.

But “the best and safest way” to provide such notice would be the use of “a written acknowledgement form,” Charns said.

Deputy Police Chief Larry Smith confirmed Monday that police have in fact posted warning signs on all its headquarters interrogation rooms. They added to warnings posted at the entrances to the Criminal Investigations and Special operations divisions.

The headquarters interrogation rooms for now are the only ones equipped for recording, Smith said. The department may wire rooms in its district substations, he said.

Smith also confirmed that officials have discussed changing department policy to make it mandatory that suspects, their spouses and their attorneys receive a reminder from detectives that the interrogation rooms are miked.

That’s already the practice, along with the offer of an un-miked room, but the policy change would write it into the department’s general orders, Smith said.

But he noted that change would only cover legally “privileged” conversations, meaning with attorneys and spouses.

“Outside of that, there is no privilege,” Smith said. “Mother/son is not a privileged conservation.”