In People v. Thomas (3d Dept. 11/9/2018), the Third Department held that the defendant was not subjected to custodial interrogation, even though a police officer testified that he would not have allowed the defendant to leave after he had entered the defendant’s residence.
The police responded to the defendant’s residence following a 911 call reporting a shooting. Defendant was initially asked to back up into the kitchen. The police explained that they simply wanted to be able to enter the residence safely and check the premises. A police officer then interviewed the defendant, his girlfriend, and two roommates together in the kitchen of the residence. The defendant was never handcuffed or otherwise restrained, and the defendant was free to move around the kitchen during the interview. However, a police officer testified that he would not have allowed the defendant to leave after he entered the residence. In other words, the defendant was not free to leave, but the officer never communicated that fact to the defendant.
The Third Department held that the officer’s subjective intent is irrelevant when determining whether or not a suspect was in custody at a particular time, where the officer’s subjective intent is not communicated to the suspect. Instead, the proper inquiry is “what a reasonable [person], innocent of any crime, would have thought had he [or she] been in the defendant’s position.” The Court concluded, on the facts in the record, that a reasonable person would not have believed that he or she was in custody. Because he was not in custody during the questioning in his kitchen, the police were not required to give him Miranda warnings.
Further, the post-Miranda statements the defendant made at the police station cannot be considered “the fruit of the poisonous tree” because the initial statements were not the product of pre-Miranda custodial interrogation. The Court thus rejected the defendant’s claim that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to raise that ground for suppression of his post-Miranda statements. (BJD)
In People v. Hackett (4th Dept. 11/9/2018), the Fourth Department analyzed a cell phone search under the 2014 Supreme Court decision Riley v. California to find that officers may send a confirmatory text message to a defendant’s cell phone when they have been in undercover communication with him to ensure they have the proper defendant. This confirmatory text may then be used to support a valid search warrant of the defendant’s cell phone. Continue reading
Under New York law, a defendant who is represented by counsel on a criminal matter may, under certain circumstances, be questioned by law enforcement about a different, unrepresented crime without violating a defendant’s right to counsel. In People v. Henry (Ct. App. 6/12/2018) (Wilson, J.) (7-0), the Court of Appeals, reversing the Appellate Division, held that police did not violate Mr. Henry’s right to counsel when they interrogated him about a murder charge for which he was not represented by counsel. (Full disclosure: counsel for the appellant in this case is an adjunct professor at St. John’s Law in our advocacy program.)
The case stemmed from a robbery at a tattoo parlor and a shooting at a gas station of a 19-year-old man in which the same getaway vehicle, a black Hyundai Sonata with dark tinted windows, was used at the scene of the crimes. Five days later, Mr. Henry, driving a black Hyundai Sonata with dark tinted windows, was pulled over for traffic infractions and arrested for marijuana possession. Mr. Henry was assigned counsel on the marijuana charges. Upon an inventory search of Mr. Henry’s vehicle, police found evidence in his car linking him to the robbery of the tattoo parlor. Three days after his release, Mr. Henry was again pulled over for traffic infractions, but this time was arrested and brought in for interrogation in connection to the robbery and murder. Mr. Henry was read his Miranda rights, which he waived, and subsequently admitted to being the driver of the vehicle involved in the robbery and murder. A grand jury returned an indictment charging Mr. Henry with multiple counts of Robbery 1º, CPW 2º, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property 5º, Murder 2º, and Criminal Possession of Marijuana 5º. Continue reading
Ever since DNA testing became prominent, police have tried all sorts of ways to collect DNA samples from suspects when there was insufficient evidence to get a court order. One of the classic "tricks" is to offer a cigarette to a suspect and collect DNA from the saliva on the butt.
In People v. Gibson (Ct. App. 6/14/2011) (7-0), the police did just that. The circumstances of the collection, however, raised an "indelible right to counsel" question. The Defendant was suspected of a robbery. He was arrested on a bench warrant in an unrelated matter in which he had counsel. While locked up, the Defendant asked if he could see the detective, whom he was friendly with. The detective then had a conversation with the Defendant about general matters. Neither the robbery nor the unrelated criminal matter were discussed. During the conversation, the two smoked cigarettes. The detective later brought the cigarette butt to the lab for testing.
A unanimous Court of Appeals held:
[T]he detective here did not ask defendant about a criminal case, and his actions — displaying a pack of cigarettes and providing one to defendant at his request — were not reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response. The DNA that defendant voluntarily deposited on the cigarette butt was not a "response" or "statement" subject to exclusion under New York's right to counsel rules because the transfer of bodily fluids was not a communicative act that disclosed "the contents of defendant's mind."
Last month, the Court of Appeals decided an interesting case on the indelible right to counsel, People v. Pacquette (Ct. App. 6/7/2011) (Read, J.) (5-2). The Defendant was suspected of a homicide in Brooklyn and he made inculpatory statements on that crime that he sought to have suppressed. The statements were made after the Defendant had been arraigned in Manhattan on drug charges. Brooklyn detectives had already put the Defendant in a lineup in Brooklyn and were sitting with him in Manhattan Criminal Court. The Defendant was ROR'd and was then arrested by the Brooklyn detectives. He then made the incriminating statements.
The question boiled down to whether the Defendant's attorney on the drug charge sufficiently communicated his involvement in the Brooklyn case such that the indelible right to counsel would have attached. The court looked at the conflicting testimony of the various participants, including the attorney and the detectives, and concluded that he had not. Specifically, the Defendant argued that his attorney's "neglect to 'specify' to the detectives whether he represented defendant in 'the drug case or the homicide case or both,' created an ambiguity causing the indelible right to counsel to attach." He argued that it at least warranted sending the case back for a further hearing.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding, "We have never held that an attorney may unilaterally create an attorney-client relationship in a criminal proceeding in this fashion, and decline to do so now. … If he had said in open court that defendant 'was represented by counsel and that [the police] should not question him,' the prosecutor (or the judge) would have had the occasion and the opportunity to ask him flat out whether he was defendant's lawyer in the murder case, as the judge and the prosecutor later did at the Huntley hearing and the trial, respectively. Moreover, there is no ambiguity here, as there was in Ramos, about whether defendant may have intended to invoke his right to counsel before making the inculpatory statements."
The facts of the case are a bit convoluted, but the decision is worth a read if you have a right to counsel issue in a case. (LC)