People v. Anderson

Decision Date14 June 1977
Citation396 N.Y.S.2d 625,42 N.Y.2d 35,364 N.E.2d 1318
Parties, 364 N.E.2d 1318 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Appellant, v. Richard Sylvester ANDERSON, Respondent.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

Lawrence T. Kurlander, Dist. Atty. (Melvin Bressler, Rochester, of counsel), for appellant.

Peter L. Yellin, Public Defender (Edward J. Nowak, Rochester, of counsel), for respondent.


After his first jury had deadlocked, defendant Richard Sylvester Anderson, Jr.'s second trial resulted in a verdict of guilty of murder. The Appellate Division, in reversing that conviction and ordering a new trial as a matter of law, did so essentially on the ground that an incriminating written statement given to the police by the defendant should not have been received in evidence because it was the product of defendant's unlawful detention. 1

The People now appeal, the case having been certified for our review by a Judge of this court. On that review, we conclude there should be an affirmance, but on a differen albeit broader, rationale than that articulated by the Appellate Division.

As we see it, the ultimate question for our consideration is whether, as a matter of law, Anderson's statement must be found to have been involuntary. The determination of that issue requires us to examine the largely undisputed circumstances under which it was made. These circumstances arose out of the death of one William Alexander, whose body, bullet wounds in its head and face, was discovered late in the evening of November 9, 1972.

No more than three hours later, at approximately 1:00 a. m. on November 10, the police, in the course of what they later described as part of a "roundup" of the decedent's friends in order to learn of "some of the activities of the victim", brought Anderson, then 21 years of age, to an "interrogation room" at police headquarters. Though neither the record of the trial nor that of an earlier suppression hearing 2 tender any proof of probable cause for arrest at that time, the police blotter signifying the time of arrests carries the entry of Anderson's name as of the time of his arrival. He was then kept there without interruption and without arraignment until he signed an incriminatory statement well over 19 hours later. It is not on that fact alone but on the entire course of events that ensued during that time period on which we focus.

For it is a complex of values that is at the heart of the rule, codified in New York as CPL 60.45, that an extrajudicial confession involuntarily made is inadmissible against an accused (Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 207, 80 S.Ct. 274, 4 L.Ed.2d 242). Certainly since at least Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278, 56 S.Ct. 461, 80 L.Ed. 682, it has come to be accepted that the requirement for voluntariness of confessions, though heavily influenced by the privilege against self incrimination (Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 12 L.Ed.2d 653), is essentially a matter of due process. It is basic that "ours is an accusatorial and not an inquisitorial system a system in which the State must establish guilt by evidence independently and freely secured and not by coercion prove its charge against an accused out of his own mouth" (Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 541, 81 S.Ct. 735, 5 L.Ed.2d 760; see, also, Spano v. New York, 360 U.S. 315, 320-321, 79 S.Ct. 1202, 3 L.Ed.2d 1265). If the State were permitted so to do, if the route of the short cut of a confession could be pursued when it is unaccompanied by its maker's exercise of free will, the fundamental principle that the burden of proving guilt is on the accuser rather than the accused could all too readily and effectively be thwarted.

However, crucial as the determination of the voluntariness of a confession may therefore be, such terms as "involuntary" and "coerced" are not simple to define. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that they may be used to describe either circumstances that render a confession inadmissible on the ground of its unreliability on the issue of guilt or innocence (see People v. Schompert, 19 N.Y.2d 300, 305, 279 N.Y.S.2d 515, 518, 226 N.E.2d 305, 307; cf. 3 Wigmore, Evidence (Chadbourn rev, 1970), § 822) or ones that invoke societal disapproval of police methods so extreme that they offend our notions of fundamental fairness, or because of both (Spano v. New York, supra, 360 U.S. at pp. 320-321, 79 S.Ct. 1202; Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219, 62 S.Ct. 280, 86 L.Ed. 166; see, also, Allen, The Supreme Court, Federalism and State Systems of Criminal Justice, 8 De Paul L.Rev. 213, 235; Paulsen, The Fourteenth Amendment and the Third Degree, 6 Stan.L.Rev. 411, 429-430).

Indeed, except in general terms, the test of involuntariness may be easier to apply than to verbalize. A series of circumstances may each alone be insufficient to cause a confession to be deemed involuntary, but yet in combination they may have that qualitative or quantitative effect (see People v. Leyra, 302 N.Y. 353, 363, 98 N.E.2d 553, 558). And, considering the variety of techniques that may suggest themselves to interrogators, it may be undesirable to prescribe inflexible and all-inclusive limitations in advance to guide interrogating law enforcement officers on all occasions. Failure to do so would not necessarily permit resort to coercion with impunity. Such tactics, when applied, tend to tell their own tale. In short, aside from a case where descent to physical brutality may make it obvious that a confession is "inherently coerced" (e. g., Brooks v. Florida, 389 U.S. 413, 88 S.Ct. 541, 19 L.Ed.2d 643; Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 64 S.Ct. 921, 88 L.Ed. 1192), the involuntariness of an inculpatory statement may usually best be uncovered by looking at the " 'totality of the circumstances' " under which it came about (Clewis v. Texas, 386 U.S. 707, 708, 87 S.Ct. 1338, 18 L.Ed.2d 423; Fikes v. Alabama, 352 U.S. 191, 197, 77 S.Ct. 281, 1 L.Ed.2d 246).

Nevertheless, in appraising that "totality", we now necessarily turn to the specific circumstances of which it is composed in this case. We do so, of course, for the purpose of determining whether the People met its burden of proving that the statement was voluntary beyond a reasonable doubt (People v. Yarter, 41 N.Y.2d 830, 393 N.Y.S.2d 393, 361 N.E.2d 1041; People v. Huntley, 15 N.Y.2d s72, 78, 255 N.Y.S.2d 838, 843, 204 N.E.2d 179, 183). If it did, the determination of the factual questions on which it is based would not be subject to our review (People v. Yarter, supra ; People v. Leonti, 18 N.Y.2d 384, 390, 275 N.Y.S.2d 825, 830, 222 N.E.2d 591, 594, cert. den. 389 U.S. 1007, 88 S.Ct. 566, 19 L.Ed.2d 603), but whether the proof met the reasonable doubt standard at all is a matter of law which we may decide (People v. Leonti, supra, at p. 389, 275 N.Y.S.2d at p. 829, 222 N.E.2d at p. 594; cf. People v. Jackson, 41 N.Y.2d 146, 152, 391 N.Y.S.2d 82, 87, 359 N.E.2d 677, 682; People v. Chapple, 38 N.Y.2d 112, 114, 378 N.Y.S.2d 682, 684, 341 N.E.2d 243, 244).

The circumstances here include the following:

1. The more than 19 hours of detention without probable cause was continuous. The interrogation room contained a table and chairs but no telephone or other means of outer communication. Anderson's detention was confined to that room. The entire atmosphere was one strange to the defendant. As hour after hour dragged on, almost inevitably it had to take on an air of hostility. None but the police, their image permeated with the authority of the State, were admitted to plaintiff's presence. In particular, there were no friendly or familiar figures to bolster his morale. No time for his release was ever suggested.

In the face of such not so subtle pressures, elementary principles of psychology tell us that Anderson, unconsciously at least, had to feel that the police had the right to hold him as they were doing, that he would be regarded as recalcitrant if he failed to answer their questions, that they had all the time in the world to query him and that, if he was to be freed, it would be when his answers had satisfied them. It is no doubt such realities that have caused us to say of unlawful detention that it is "one of the factors to be considered on the issue of voluntariness" (People v. Johnson, 40 N.Y.2d 882, 883, 389 N.Y.S.2d 347, 357 N.E.2d 1002; cf. People v. De Tore, 34 N.Y.2d 199, 208-209, 356 N.Y.S.2d 598, 604-605, 313 N.E.2d 61, 64-65; People v. Herbison, 22 N.Y.2d 946, 295 N.Y.S.2d 162, 242 N.E.2d 394; Brown v. Illinois, 422 U.S. 590, 95 S.Ct. 2254, 45 L.Ed.2d 416).


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