People v. Johnson

This appeal addresses whether a defendant’s right to counsel has been violated when he attempts to gain leniency for one crime by discussing another crime and ultimately incriminates himself for the other crime in a meeting where his attorney was not present. Defendant was arrested for burglary, and told detectives that he had information about an earlier, unrelated stabbing in attempt to obtain leniency. This led to a meeting between defendant, his attorney, police officers, and an assistant district attorney. The People agreed that they would not use any statement the defendant made in a prosecution brought against him in return for his full cooperation, but included a clause that the agreement would be null and void if the defendant violated any of its terms.

In the meeting, the defendant told law enforcement and the assistant district attorney that a friend of his had performed the stabbing, and that he was in jail at the time the stabbing occurred. However, after fact checking the police found that defendant was released ten days prior to the stabbing. The police were hesitant, but decided to wire up the defendant to speak to the friend of his that he claimed did the stabbing.

In a separate meeting, defendant met with law enforcement without his counsel present, his counsel believing that this was not an interrogation but rather a meeting to discuss strategy for the upcoming wire situation. However, when police spoke to defendant, his story changed several times, with the defendant ultimately admitting he was actually the one who had done the stabbing. Defendant was then read his Miranda warnings, and signed a typed statement. Defendant was later arrested and charged with attempted murder and assault, to which he was found guilty of both crimes. The trial court had denied his motion to suppress, and the appellate division affirmed.

When this case came before the New York Court of Appeals however, the Court reversed, ordered that the statements in question be suppressed, and ordered a new trial.  The court reasoned that defendant’s right to counsel encompassed his conversations with law enforcement regarding the stabbings since the conversations were an attempt to gain leniency for the burglary case. Therefore, defendant would have needed to waive counsel for the police to continue questioning him. There was never a waiver that occurred, so therefore the statements should be suppressed.

2 N.Y.S.3d 825 (N.Y. 2014)

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