Public Defender Report: Reduction in arrests for first time in years

Another issue that the report focused on was criticism of the courts of the police’s use of undercover confidential informants embedded with defendants during detention.

July 1, 2019 02:01
3 minute read.
Prison jail cell illustrative

Prison. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)

The public defender surprised observers on Sunday when he wrote in his annual report that the police had reduced the number of arrests for the first time in years.

According to the Public Defender’s Office Report, the number of arrests by police dropped to 53,000, or a reduction of 10% in 2018 as compared to 2017.

For years, the Public Defender’s Office has argued that there are many false convictions resulting from a large volume of defendants who cannot afford a lawyer or who feel pressure to confess to get freed from arrest.

Regarding the number of arrests and the number of defendants kept in detention during investigations or even until the end of their trials, public defender reports have for years recommended legislation to reduce the number of arrests.

Multiple state commissions and court decisions have said that the police are too quick to arrest defendants even in cases where an arrest is not only not necessary, but can cause damage to the defendants that could have been avoided.

In light of the surprising data of a reduction in arrests, the report praised the police and expressed a hope that law enforcement would maintain the trend to show it had truly changed its approach.

In the meantime, the report said that even with the reduction in arrests, there are still far too many arrests and that arrests are still used as a weapon to pressure defendants into pleading guilty regardless of their innocence.

Another issue that the report focused on was criticism by the courts of the police’s use of undercover confidential informants embedded with defendants during detention.

In the Elisha Hivtuv case and in other decisions by the Supreme Court, there were negative consequences for the state prosecution based on law enforcement’s improper use of undercover informants in prison.

Due to a court decision that found an improper use of undercover informants in prison based on new evidence produced by the public defender, Hivtuv was acquitted of murder and freed from prison after having already served an 11-year jail sentence.

Likewise, the Supreme Court ordered the disclosure of the state prosecution’s previously confidential guidelines regarding the handling of such undercover informants after it found that these informants had been mishandled in many cases.

The state prosecution noted that despite its criticism, the Supreme Court continues to support the tool of undercover informants in prisons as legitimate, and merely has directed law enforcement to retool how it employs the tactic.

Undercover informants are often used as a way to extract a confession from a non-cooperative defendant and without using any kind of physical coercion.

However, the courts reject the tactic when undercover informants are found to have solicited defendants to commit new crimes, or when they threaten defendants in a way that ends up approximating physical coercion.

While in 2017, the public defender raved about support from then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked for reforms in the area of false convictions, the impression in this report was that Shaked had not engendered any major change before her firing around a month ago.

The report also slammed the state for failing to advise suspects in interrogation, especially minors, of all of their rights, such as the right to legal advice.

Noting that the number of suspects asking to speak to a lawyer before their interrogation had risen from 49.24% to 56.18%, the report said that the percentage was still too low and showed that the police were still interfering with suspects getting advice from lawyers in order to defend their rights.

In 2018, the public defender dealt with 276 complaints against the police for improper actions. The Police Investigations Department (PID) closed 193 cases in 2018, while, according to the report, the PID did not carefully check the allegations of most of those cases.

The report said that only one complaint led to a criminal indictment, which it said showed that the PID is serving as a cover for police who abuse defendants’ rights.

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