By: Monica Benjovsky ’23
First, I would like to thank the donors of the Terry M. Richman Fellowship for their incredible generosity and kindness in allowing me the opportunity to practice an area of law that I am passionate about. The funds have made it possible for me to pursue an internship at the Erie County District Attorney’s Office for the Summer of 2022. Becoming a prosecutor within the Buffalo community is something I hope to pursue as I begin my legal career. Working alongside the Assistant Erie County District Attorney’s within the Homicide and Major Crimes Bureaus, has been eye-opening and inspiring to say the least. I hope one day to follow in the footsteps of these incredible attorneys. Your kindness is something I will never forget as it has given me this wonderful opportunity to learn and educate myself outside of my time at the University at Buffalo School of Law. I cannot begin to thank the donors enough. You have inspired me to pay it forward and support other law students such as myself in the future.
During my time spent at the Erie County District Attorney’s Office (ECDAO), I was assigned to the major crimes and community prosecution bureaus. As I was exposed to and asked to conduct research on a variety of issues within the area of criminal law, the issue I found to be most challenging and engaging was in regard to Miranda rights for mental health professionals embedded within police departments. Specifically, I was asked to research and make an outline of Miranda rights for the Buffalo Police Department Behavioral Health Team (BPDBHT).
The BPDBHT is called to handle situation with individuals who appear to be unstable or present a clear and present danger to the health and welfare of themselves or those around them. BPDBHT clinicians, with the presence of law enforcement, interview the subject as part of their assessment of him/her. The interviews are sometimes done by sworn officers, but most often by mental health clinicians. The sole purpose of the mental health clinicians embodied within BPD is to provide treatment and services to the subject because the health and welfare of the subject or those around them is in danger.
At the ECDAO, I was asked to draft a training bulletin that outlined when Miranda warnings should be given by mental health clinicians involved in an assessment and what is okay to ask without giving Miranda warnings. In sum, I recognized that Miranda requirements do not necessarily apply to questioning conducted by medical professionals, so long as the sole purpose of the mental health professional is to provide treatment. I was lucky enough to attend a panel and discussion involving the BPDBHT and heard first-hand how it is almost never the intention of these clinicians to coerce a confession from a subject. The clinician discussed how it is their sole responsibility and purpose to ensure these individuals are provided the help needed to obtain treatment or assistance. Although there is typically the presence of a law enforcement officer during these assessments, the BPDBHT clinician noted the questions she and other clinicians ask is to ensure proper safety of the subject and those around him/her.
While I struggled to find current case law within the Fourth Department that directly targets this issue, I am confident cases regarding this issue will arise, as government prosecutors will increasingly look to utilize the confession of a crime by subjects to mental health clinicians embedded within police departments. However, so long as the motive of the mental health clinician is to provide accurate diagnosis and treatment to the subject, government prosecutors are likely unable to use confessions of a crime provided in such a manner. Without providing the complete training bulletin I drafted for the BPDBHT, I have listed below basic medical professional case law in regards to Miranda rights.
Name: Monica Benjovsky ‘23
Name of Fellowship: Terry M. Richman Fellowship
Placement: Erie County District Attorney’s Office
Location: Buffalo, NY
One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “As I was exposed to and asked to conduct research on a variety of issues within the area of criminal law, the issue I found to be most challenging and engaging was in regard to Miranda rights for mental health professionals embedded within police departments.”