Israeli Judge Slams Police for Denying Palestinian Detainee Legal Aid, Orders Him Released

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File photo: Detainee entering courtroom.
File photo: Detainee entering courtroom. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

An Israeli district judge slammed the Israel Police on Sunday for not allowing a suspect to consult with a lawyer before being questioned, though he asked for it several times. Tel Aviv District Court Judge Hagai Tarsi said the police’s conduct gravely undermined the constitutional right to legal counsel.

Because of the police’s conduct, Tarsi released the suspect after two months in detention, even though the evidence tied him to the crimes.

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A. was arrested in Qalqilya, West Bank, together with two other people.

The charges filed a week after his arrest accuse him of robbing an apartment in Moshav Beit Hashmonai, entering Israel illegally, conspiring to commit a crime, robbery, stealing a car, and after they noticed a police road-block and began to drive wildly, obstructing a police officer in fulfilling his duty.

The night of his arrest, an investigator asked A. if he wanted to consult with a lawyer. Although A. answered in the affirmative, the investigator continued the interrogation, saying he had this one chance to come clean.

Later, again the investigator asked if he wanted to talk with a lawyer, A. said yes, and asked for a public defender.

The investigator did call the public defense and told A. that within minutes, the public defense office would revert with the name of his representative.

Then the investigator again suggested that the interrogation continue before he spoke with a lawyer, A. declined and said he would rather wait. The investigator suggested that if he were innocent he wouldn’t be insisting on his right to legal counsel.

The morning after the interrogation, the police motioned the court to extend A.’s remand (for the first time) on the grounds that he posed a danger to the public and could flee. At that court hearing, before Magistrate’s Court Judge Ayala Oren, A.’s public defender, Moanes Younes, protested that A.’s right to consult legal counsel had been impaired. Oren said she was perturbed by the violation of the suspect’s rights, but accepted the police motion to detain A. for the duration of proceedings against him, because the evidence tied him to the crimes.

Younes appealed the ruling and won on Sunday. Though not disputing the evidence against A., Tarsi ruled that he should be released for the duration of the proceedings because the transcript of his interrogation showed that his rights had been brutally and unjustifiably trampled. The investigator’s conduct had been especially bad and harmful, Tarsi said, and added that A. had no prior record.

A.’s actual trial over the robbery and the rest will begin in March.

The police commented that when criticized by the court, it studies the criticism and lessons are learned if necessary. The public defender’s office at the Justice Ministry says that 51% of the adult defendants who ask for a public defender claim to initially be denied the right.

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