Define That Term #267
The New York Legal Blog Round Up

Third Department Holds Miranda Violation Warrants New Trial

Gavel2 In People v VanPatten, 2007 NY Slip Op 10408, the defendant was convicted after jury trial of Making a Terrroristic Threat in violation of Penal Law 240.20.  The defendant, while in custody on a parole violation, was accused of writing a letter to the Madison County District Attorney threatening the lives of the DA and his family unless he stopped prosecuting crimes violating Article 49 of the Penal Law.  The only person being prosecuted pursuant to that Article at the time the letter was sent was the defendant's biological father.

The defendant, who was incarcerated at the time, allegedly confessed to writing the threatening letter when speaking with a police investigator.  The confession occurred after the investigator informed Mr. VanPatten of the lengthy list of questions he intended to ask regarding the letter.  Following the initial "spontaneous" confession, the investigator advised him of his Miranda rights and he confessed again.

The Third Department held the trial court should have suppressed the entire confession:

When "the circumstances of the detention and interrogation of a prison inmate . . . entail added constraint that would lead a prison inmate reasonably to believe that there has been a restriction on that person's freedom over and above that of ordinary confinement in a correctional facility, Miranda warnings are necessary" (People v Alls, 83 NY2d 94, 100 [1993], cert denied 511 US 1090 [1994]; see People v Ward, 241 AD2d 767, 768 [1997], lv denied 91 NY2d 837 [1997]). Here, the interrogation of [*3]defendant at the detention facility which took place in a classroom with correction officers standing outside the door while defendant was not permitted to leave on his own was custodial in nature...In our view, Nell's explanation to defendant regarding why he wanted to speak with defendant was the functional equivalent of interrogation and, thus, County Court's determination that the statement was spontaneous is not supported by the record (see People v Vaughn, 275 AD2d 484, 487 [2000], lv denied 96 NY2d 788 [2001])...The entire interview took place over the course of approximately 30 minutes in a single location, without any break in questioning, and was, as Nell testified, "just [*4]one continuous process." Thus, defendant's warned statements were obtained as part of a "single continuous chain of events" and must also be suppressed.

What confounds me about this case is that the cops didn't play by the book given the strength of the evidence against the defendant.

The threatening letter "included defendant's full name, prison identification number and the address of the detention facility where defendant was held on unrelated parole violation charges", "fingerprints found on the letter were traceable to defendant" and the defendant's father was the only person currently facing charges for the crime mentioned in the letter.

Seems like a slam dunk even without the confession.  Now they're back to square one.  That'll learn 'em.

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