Tuesday, July 05, 2005

For Miranda taint, "single continuous chain of events" gets a whole lot shorter: Court of Appeals guts Chapple/Bethea

People v Paulman, 2005 NY Slip Op 05452

The United States Supreme Court has held that in most cases Miranda warnings alone are sufficient to dispel the taint of a prior unwarned statement. (People v Paulman, 2005 NY Slip Op 05452.) New York does not follow the Supremes on this issue. Interpreting the New York constitution, the Court of Appeals has long held that the right to remain silent "would have little deterrent effect if the police know that they can as part of a continuous chain of events question a suspect in custody without warning, provided only they thereafter question him or her again after warnings have been given." (People v Bethea, 67 NY2d 364, 366 [1986].) In New York, Miranda warnings must "precede the subjection of a defendant to questioning. Later is too late, unless there is such a definite, pronounced break in the interrogation that the defendant may be said to have returned, in effect, to the status of one who is not under the influence of questioning." (People v Chapple, 38 NY2d 112, 115 [1975].)

Although the Court of Appeals stopped short of overturning Bethea and adopting the Supreme Court's position on this issue, this past Wednesday's opinion in People v Paulman weakens the Chapple/Bethea doctrine substantially. Defendant in Paulman was taken to the police station and was asked to write out a statement, without first being Mirandized. He finished giving the first written statement at about 3:30 a.m. At 4:00 a.m., defendant was taken to an office in the same barracks and given his Miranda warnings, and then gave another written statement. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division's holding that the first, un-Mirandized statement should have been suppressed, but found that "there was a sufficiently 'definite, pronounced break in the interrogation' to dissipate the taint from the Miranda violation . . . [and] the Mirandized statement is admissible at trial despite the prior, unwarned statement." (Paulman at 20.) The Court noted the general factors usually considered to determine if there is a sufficient break in interrogation:

to determine whether there is a "single continuous chain of events" under Chapple, New York courts have considered a number of factors, including the time differential between the Miranda violation and subsequent admission; whether the same police personnel were present and involved in eliciting each statement; whether there was a change in the location or nature of the interrogation; the circumstances surrounding the Miranda violation, such as the extent of the improper questioning; and whether, prior to the Miranda violation, defendant had indicated a willingness to speak to police. No one fact is determinative and each case must be viewed on its unique facts.

(Paulman at 20.)

Paulman is such a significant decision not because it sets out new Chapple factors, but rather in the way the Court applies the factors. The Paulman Court found 30 minutes a sufficient lapse to dispel the taint of the first un-warned statement; the Fourth Department has previously found an interval of almost twice as long insufficient to attenuate subsequent statements. (People v Jordan, 190 AD2d 990, 991 [4th Dept 1993].) Another factor cited by the Paulman Court was that the two interviews "took place in different locations"--this is technically true, but the "different location" was an office in the same police station where the initial un-warned statement was given. Again, the Fourth Department has previously found a subsequent statement not sufficiently attenuated from the first where the original un-Mirandized statement was given at the crime scene and the subsequent statement was taken at the police station (see Jordan, supra), and I am aware of no case where a "different location" for purposes of a Chapple analysis was down the hall from the location where the original, un-warned statement was given.

The Court of Appeals also seemed to give great weight to the fact that the two "methods of eliciting information" were different between the un-warned statement and the subsequent interview, holding "a reasonable suspect in defendant's position would have perceived a marked change in the tenor of his engagement with police." (Paulman at 21.) This has never before been the standard to determine if a sufficient break has occurred to find subsequent Miranda warnings have dispelled the taint of the original un-warned statement. Chapple requires "such a definite, pronounced break in the interrogation that the defendant may be said to have returned, in effect, to the status of one who is not under the influence of questioning." (Chapple, 38 NY2d 112, 115 [1975].) It is hard to see how a marked increase in the intensity of questioning can count as a "pronounced break" in the interrogation.

Indeed, Paulman seems to stretch Chapple/Bethea almost to the breaking point. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Court of Appeals is retreating from the state constitutional protections against self-incrimination found in Chapple/Bethea, interpreting their previous precedents in such a way as to read out any meaningful safeguards.