People v. Baldi

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Citation429 N.E.2d 400,54 N.Y.2d 137,444 N.Y.S.2d 893
Parties, 429 N.E.2d 400 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Appellant, v. Joseph BALDI, Respondent.
Decision Date29 October 1981

Page 893

444 N.Y.S.2d 893
54 N.Y.2d 137, 429 N.E.2d 400
The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Appellant,
Joseph BALDI, Respondent.
Court of Appeals of New York.
Oct. 29, 1981.

Page 894

John J. Santucci, Dist. Atty. (Barry A. Schwartz and Charles N. Walsh, Asst. Dist. Attys., of counsel), for appellant.

Lynn W. L. Fahey and William E. Hellerstein, New York City, for respondent.


COOKE, Chief Judge.

An attorney who presents a well-grounded but unsuccessful defense will not later be held to have provided ineffective assistance of counsel, and thus a defendant will not be entitled to a vacatur of his conviction on such basis.

Joseph Baldi was convicted after separate trials for unrelated crimes committed nine months apart. The first judgment, entered November 24, 1974, convicted defendant of attempted murder, burglary in the second degree, and felonious possession of weapons. The second judgment, entered January 16, 1975, convicted defendant of murder in the second degree. The Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed both convictions, 76 A.D.2d 259, 429 N.Y.S.2d 677, 80 Misc.2d 118, 362 N.Y.S.2d 927, on the ground that Baldi was denied the effective assistance of counsel. The People appeal from the order of reversal. The Appellate Division's order is now reversed.


The facts are taken from testimony at the two trials and the pretrial suppression hearing.

Page 895

In the early hours of September 5, 1971, police received a prowler complaint in Queens. While investigating, two officers saw Joseph Baldi walking down the sidewalk at 5:00 a.m. When asked by Officer John Hamberger what he was doing in the area, Baldi responded that he had just left his girlfriend and was on his way to work. Dissatisfied with defendant's answers to further questions, Officer Hamberger asked for identification. Baldi reached for his pocket as though to take out his wallet, but instead produced a pistol, pointed it at the officer's chest, and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, the gun misfired and the officers wrestled Baldi to the ground and disarmed him.

Baldi was handcuffed, arrested, and placed in the police car. After being read the Miranda warnings, he was searched. Live ammunition was found in the gun, which was operable, and more ammunition was found in defendant's jacket. In addition, there were found in Baldi's wallet a license, registration, and Social Security card belonging to a woman who lived nearby. Defendant claimed he had found the items on the street. Subsequent investigation revealed that the woman's handbag, found the next day in a trashcan, had been stolen from her dining room table earlier that night.

Legal Aid Society representation was provided for Baldi. He was indicted in December, 1971, for, among other charges, attempted murder of a police officer, burglary, and possession of a weapon. The defendant, however, was found to be incompetent to stand trial after examination at Kings County Hospital. From there, Baldi was sent to Mid-Hudson State Hospital and then to Creedmoor State Hospital. In February, 1972, Baldi was released from Creedmoor without notice to the District Attorney or the court.

On June 17, 1972, at about 3:30 a.m., 15-year-old Deborah Januszko was fatally stabbed through her open bedroom window as she slept. On June 20, at about 5:00 a.m., Detective Donald Palmer spotted Baldi while staking out the Januszko neighborhood. Baldi identified himself and stated that he was attending a trade school in the area.

After investigating Baldi's story, Palmer went with another officer to Baldi's apartment for more information. At around 12:15 a.m., of June 21, Palmer met Baldi in the building's hallway, identified himself, and asked if Baldi would come to the homicide squad for questioning. As related by Palmer at a subsequent suppression hearing, defendant immediately mentioned the earlier charge concerning the attempted murder of the police officer, apparently assuming that Palmer's interest concerned that incident. Palmer asked what had happened in that case and defendant responded, according to Palmer's testimony, that "he went to--or was sentenced to Creedmoor State." When defendant asked whether Palmer knew about the charge, Palmer's only response was that the officers were there to investigate the Januszko slaying. No further inquiries were made into Baldi's statement or whether he had an attorney. Prior to this conversation, Palmer was personally unaware of the first charge or arrest.

At Palmer's request, Baldi allowed the police to enter his apartment. Among other things, they found a number of knives and sexually explicit magazines. In response to the detective's renewed request, Baldi agreed to accompany the officer to the police station.

At the station, Baldi received a full recitation of his Miranda rights. The defendant acknowledged that he understood all the warnings and answered questions put to him by Detective Angelo Lamardo. After Lamardo reviewed some preliminary matters, the magazines and knives found in Baldi's apartment were brought into the interrogation room. Lamardo began thumbing through one of the magazines and making deprecatory remarks about the models; Baldi defended them, stating that they were not degenerates and then reached out to touch the photographs. Baldi's knives were placed before him and more questions asked, leading to a specific

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inquiry about the Januszko slaying. Baldi went into a trance-like state and pantomimed the stabbing. During the night, he did this twice more in the station house, each time explaining his actions in response to Lamardo's questions. After each of the three re-enactments, defendant fell to the floor and had to be assisted to his feet. Finally, around 5:30 a.m., he was taken to the Januszko home, where he once again acted out the killing. This time, he did not collapse after he re-enacted the crime. Baldi was returned to the police station and charged with murdering Deborah Januszko.

On June 22, 1972, Sidney Sparrow was assigned as counsel for Baldi on the Januszko murder charge. At some later date, Sparrow also assumed Baldi's defense on the earlier charges.

Thereafter, Sparrow learned that the police believed Baldi possibly was responsible for other unsolved burglary-murders that had occurred in Queens over several years. On July 7 and 14, Baldi was questioned by Lamardo in the presence of Sparrow, other detectives, and two county psychiatrists. In these interviews, Baldi again confessed to the Januszko slaying, and also confessed to three other murders as well as 10 assaults on women. At the July 7 meeting, Baldi went into the same sort of trance as on June 21 and described his acts as though occurring at that moment. At the second of these interrogations, Baldi was hypnotized by a psychiatrist and this time described his acts as occurring in the past.

On July 8, 1972, Baldi was indicted for the Januszko murder. On July 18, he was indicted for the three other murders to which he had confessed. No trial on any of the indictments was held until late 1974. During the interim, Baldi was examined on three occasions and found competent to stand trial. Sparrow accepted these findings without demanding a hearing.

In October, 1974, Baldi was tried by jury on the indictment arising from the September, 1971 incident involving the police officer. Baldi pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. The defense theory, other than factual innocence, was that defendant was schizophrenic, having two or more personalities. The defendant took the stand and denied the events as testified to by the arresting officers. On direct examination by Sparrow, Baldi also denied committing or confessing to the crimes he had described in the July, 1972 interviews. Sparrow took the stand himself, with the consent of both the Assistant District Attorney and the court, and testified in detail to what he had observed during these interviews, recounting his client's admissions to the murders and assaults. Sparrow also testified that on June 22, 1972, the day after defendant's arrest for the Januszko murder, he visited the defendant at Kings County Hospital where Baldi was being held for examination. Sparrow described Baldi as shuffling along without lifting his feet, speaking in grunts and in a barely audible voice, and unable to hold Sparrow's business card when placed in his hand, apparently unaware of its presence. Expert testimony was also presented to establish Baldi's insanity and inability to comprehend the nature and consequences of his acts. Baldi's defense failed and he was convicted for attempted murder of a police officer, burglary in the second degree, and felonious possession of weapons. Baldi received consecutive sentences for his crimes.

In early November, 1974, a Huntley hearing was held to determine whether Baldi's statements at any of the three examinations would be admissible at his murder trial. Again, Sparrow took the stand. Concerning the circumstances under which he allowed defendant to be interviewed, disputed by the Assistant District Attorney, Sparrow testified that, after being informed of Baldi's possible involvement in other murders, Sparrow agreed to the interviews on the understanding that nothing said by the defendant would be used against him. Sparrow, in support of the claim of involuntariness by reason of insanity, also testified to Baldi's appearance when they first met on June 22, as well as to Baldi's conduct at the July, 1972 examinations. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Judge ruled that the June 21 confession was

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voluntarily made and thus admissible against the defendant. As to the other statements, although the court did not expressly find an agreement had actually been made, it noted Sparrow's expertise in criminal law and reliance on his understanding of the arrangement in ruling that Baldi's constitutional rights would be violated if...

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