Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York robbery case, reversing the defendant’s conviction based on the lower court’s improper denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress his statement. Specifically, the statement included his answers to a few questions asked by a detective before the detective read the defendant his Miranda warnings.
According to the court’s opinion, a woman was robbed by an unknown man while walking with a friend. Later, the friend admitted that she had planned the robbery with the unnamed man, the defendant in this case. The friend gave a statement to police implicating the defendant, who was arrested. In her statement, the friend claimed she knew the defendant because they both worked at the same bar.
After he was arrested, a detective sat down with the defendant. Before reading the defendant his Miranda rights, the detective asked the defendant a few preliminary questions about his employment and work history. The defendant answered the questions, and then the detective read the defendant his Miranda rights and continued to ask questions about the robbery. The defendant was ultimately arrested and convicted of robbery and related charges.
The defendant appealed, arguing that his answers to the detective’s initial pre-Miranda questions should be suppressed because they were taken in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination. The court agreed, reversing the convictions and ordering a new trial.
The court noted that individuals who are taken into custody must be informed of their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination before they are interrogated. The court explained that interrogation includes “any words or actions on the part of the police (other than those normally attendant to arrest and custody) that the police should know are reasonably likely to elicit an incriminating response from the suspect.”
Here, the court determined that the preliminary questions about the defendant’s work history constituted an interrogation. The court explained that the friend’s statement indicated she knew the defendant because they both worked at the same bar. Thus, when the detective was asking the defendant about his work history, he was essentially doing so as part of an investigation, and not just making small talk as the prosecution suggested. Because these answers were given without providing the defendant his Miranda warnings, they should not have been admitted at trial. Thus, the court reversed the defendant’s convictions and ordered a new trial.
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