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Court Decides if Incriminating Statements are Admissible


On September 30, 1974, three men wearing bandanas on their faces entered the house of a man and rounded up all the people in his house. The three men threatened the man of the house at gunpoint and told him that they will kill his children if he did not open his safe and give them all the valuables he had.

A New York Criminal Lawyer said the man complied and opened his safe. As he was opening his safe, the bandana on the face of one of the three armed men came loose and fell off. The man of the house got a good look at his face. But just the same the man of the house gave the armed men all the cash in his safe, a diamond ring and his coin collection which was worth around $40,000.00. The armed man whose face he saw was the same man who pointed a gun to his head all the while that he was opening the safe.

A month later, the man of the house was summoned by the Nassau police. They asked him to identify one of the armed men, the one whose face he saw, from a line up they had. The man of the house positively identified the armed man whose bandana fell from his face.
The man was indicted for robbery and larceny. During his arraignment his counsel was able to obtain bail for him. After he posted bail, the man left Nassau County for New York City. While there, he contacted a fence he knew so that he could sell the man of the house’s coin collection.

The fence he knew turned out to be an undercover police officer from New York City. They at first spoke on the phone and the fence seemed interested in the coin collection. They agreed to meet at a restaurant. The armed man told the fence that he would call him to make the final arrangements. When the armed man called the fence, the fence, who was an undercover police officer, recorded their conversation.

In that recorded conversation, the armed man described to the undercover cop the entire coin collection. A Nassau Criminal Lawyer said that the undercover police officer was investigating a crime being committed in his jurisdiction in the city of New York not knowing that the evidence he was gathering to prosecute the crime in New York City was also evidence for another crime committed in Nassau County.

During the trial in Nassau County for armed robbery, the tape recording of the conversation between the undercover New York City police officer who was posing as a fence was played for the jury. The armed man objected to the playing of the entire recorded conversation as it was recorded without his knowledge or consent as and it amounted to making a statement without being apprised of his Miranda rights and without the presence of his counsel.
The trial judge denied his motion to suppress the recorded telephone conversation. The armed man was convicted of armed robbery and larceny. He appealed his conviction on constitutional grounds. The only question before the Supreme Court was whether or not the recorded conversation should be suppressed.

The Court held that the rule is well-established in New York that incriminating statements obtained from an accused after he has asked for a lawyer are inadmissible if obtained through a custodial interrogation without his counsel and without a waiver of his rights.

Here, however, the Court ruled that the rule cannot be applied absolutely. The armed man’s statements to the undercover police officer were spontaneous declarations. At the time that the armed man made those statements, he was not under custodial investigation and the undercover New York City officer was not investigating the armed robbery in Nassau County. There was no deliberate attempt to inveigle the armed man to make incriminatory statements, no threats were made and no pressure was brought to bear upon him to make those statements.

The armed man also questions his indictment for armed robbery when no evidence of a gun was ever proffered by the People. And even if evidence was procured that a gun was used in the commission of the armed robbery, there is no proof that the gun was used to forcibly take property of the man of the house for the brandishing of the gun could have been done in the heat of passion.

The Court ruled that possession of a gun while committing a robbery, brandishing it, using it to threaten the man of the house and aiming the gun to the head of the man of the house to make him open his safe and give the armed man the contents of the safe are all evidence from which the reasonable mind of the jury was able to make the inference that the intent of the armed man was to forcibly take the property of the man of the house.

The Court upheld and affirmed the conviction of the armed man.

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