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People v. Coniglio

People v. Coniglio

Court Discusses Whether a Dying Declaration was Admissible in a Murder Trial

The defendant was indicted for two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. The defendant requested a motion to suppress statements made by the deceased and by himself, and the gun and bullets found in defendant’s automobile. The motion to supress the dying declaration made by the deceased was not a true suppression motion as it called for the evidentiary ruling on the admissibility of the statement made. A suppression of evidence at a hearing was based on whether constitutional rights were violated by improper acquisition of evidence. It did not touch upon trial relevance of evidence, or admissibility, but function is simply to bar or admit on constitutional grounds.

The Dying Declaration Hearing

The deceased informed one of the police officer on the scene of the crime that the defendant shot her and her and killed her husband. She also told the officer where he could be found and that she was going to die from the injuries he inflicted on her. The dying declaration by the deceased could not be introduced into evidence unless it appears that declarant was in extremis; that is declarant was under sense of impending death, without any hope of recovery; and that declarant, if living, would be competent as witness. The defendant’s Queens County Criminal Attorney relied on the People v. Ricken 242 App.Div. 106, 273 N.Y.S. 470 to reject the admission the declaration into evidence. In Ricken the declarant stated that he did not think he will live, and it was held that there was no hopeless expectation of death. However, in the instant case the declarant clearly stated that she was going to die which showed a hopeless expectation of death as she lost all hope of recovery.

It was concluded that where the declarant, when found on floor with bullet wounds in chest and head, stated that defendant murdered her husband and she was going to die too, victim’s statement was admissible as dying declaration. The fact that she died several hours after making the statement because she had an operation to save her life did not change statement’s character or effect as dying declaration. There was no evidence that the statement by the victim was either reflective or contrived.

Suppression Hearing

The defendant requested to supress evidence found in his motor vehicle which was found by a police officer. The defendant was arrested after the defendant’s motor vehicle matched the description given of a vehicle that left the scene of an accident. The arresting officer who stopped the defendant’s car observed that he had alcohol emanating from his breath, unsteady feet and bloodshot eyes. The defendant had also peed on himself. The officer then went into the car after the defendant told him that his registration and identification could be found in the glove compartment. The officer found a loaded gun with three live rounds and two spent shells on the floor of the driver’s seat while opening the glove compartment. The defendant was read his Miranda rights and when asked if he was willing to make any statements, he replied no. However, when writing up the arrest record the defendant asked the officer where he found the gun because he could not find it. He further stated that he wanted to get rid of the gun. The statements made were admissible because they were not solicited from the defendant but they were voluntarily made.

The court also held that the search was incidental to the lawful arrest as it was not limited to arrestee’s person but also applied to area within his immediate control. The officer went into the defendant’s automobile legally and was justified in seizing the loaded weapon having found that the floor of the motor vehicle. There was probable cause for stopping the defendant as his automobile matched the description given after he left the scene of an accident. Further, when the defendant was stopped by the officer he was in an intoxicated state, therefore, probable cause existed as DWI driving while intoxicated was also a crime.

The People had duty to go forward with proof that probable cause existed to arrest and search, and once this was done, burden shifted to the defendant to show illegality of search. Where the defendant challenged the admissibility of the physical evidence he had ultimate burden of proving that evidence should not be used against him. The defendant gave the officer permission to get his registration and identification from the glove compartment; the gun found by officer on floor under glove compartment was admissible. Consent was given freely and voluntarily in justifying the lawfulness of the search. Therefore, motion to suppress the physical evidence was denied.

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