New York Court Suppresses Defendant’s Statement Made to Out-of-State Law Enforcement Officers

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York criminal case involving a question as to whether statements that the defendant made to Pennsylvania state troopers could be used against him in his New York arson case. Ultimately, the court concluded that the Pennsylvania State Troopers questioned the defendant in violation of his right to counsel. Thus, the court held that the statements should have been suppressed.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was under investigation for several arsons in New York. After detectives interviewed the defendant about one of the fires, the defendant fled to Pennsylvania. A short time later, Pennsylvania State Troopers arrested the defendant for an alleged arson offense that allegedly occurred in Pennsylvania. The defendant requested that the court appoint counsel.

Upon hearing about the defendant’s arrest, New York police traveled to Pennsylvania to interview the defendant. While New York police did not actually interview the defendant, they observed as Pennsylvania State Troopers asked the defendant questions about the New York arsons without the presence of defense counsel. The defendant made several statements regarding the New York arsons.

The defendant was charged for several arson offenses in New York. The prosecution intended to introduce the statements that the defendant made to Pennsylvania State Troopers as evidence of his guilt. The defendant objected, arguing that the statements were taken in violation of his constitutional right to have an attorney present when being interrogated by law enforcement.

The court agreed with the defendant, finding that the statements must be suppressed. The court noted that once a defendant is in custody for any offense, “custodial interrogation on any subject, whether related or unrelated to the charge upon which representation is sought or obtained, must cease.”  New York’s right to counsel is indelible.  Meaning that once it attaches, it may not be waived without the presence of an attorney.

The court explained that the defendant’s right to counsel attached when he requested the court appoint counsel. After this point, it was inappropriate for law enforcement officers to discuss any pending allegations against the defendant without the presence of his attorney. The court acknowledged that an attorney had not yet been assigned when the troopers questioned the defendant, but held that this did not change the result, explaining that the right to counsel attaches regardless of whether counsel has been appointed.

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