People v. Boone

Decision Date02 July 1968
Citation22 N.Y.2d 476,293 N.Y.S.2d 287,239 N.E.2d 885
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
Parties, 239 N.E.2d 885 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Brunno BOONE (True Name Burrno Boone) and John Brandon, Appellants.

Patricia A. Garfinkel and Anthony F. Marra, New York City, for Brunno Boone, appellant.

Allen S. Stim, New York City, for John Brandon, appellant.

Frank S. Hogan, Dist. Atty., (Michael R. Stack and H. Richard Uviller, New York City, of counsel), for respondent.

SCILEPPI, Judge.

The defendants, Boone and Brandon, appeal from judgments of the Appellate Division, First Department, which affirmed judgments of the Supreme Court, New York County, convicting each of the defendants of murder in the first degree and sentencing them to life imprisonment.

The defendants were found guilty of murdering Thomas Brooks whose bound and gagged body was discovered in his apartment by his son Daniel on February 20, 1965. According to medical testimony, Mr. Brooks had died two days earlier; death was caused by fractures of the mandible (jaw bone), hyoid bone (a bone in the vicinity of the larynx) and asphyxiation by smothering from a gag in the mouth.

The deceased was last seen alive in his apartment on the afternoon of the murder, February 18, 1965, by an exterminator who testified that he saw him first about 1:30 p.m. and again about 20 minutes later.

A portable television set which was taken from the apartment was pawned on February 18, 1965 by Louis Cook. Cook, who led the police to both Boone and Brandon, testified that Boone and a girl named Adele approached him on a street corner and asked him to pawn a television set. For a small profit, he agreed to pawn the set and picked it up in a vestibule around the corner. Brandon was in the hallway when he picked up the set. Cook further testified that later in the day, after he had pawned the set, Boone admitted that he and Brandon had stolen it. Several days later, after an argument, Cook gave the pawn ticket to Boone.

Adele McClinton testified that on February 18, 1965, while seated in the Rock Tavern waiting for Louis Cook to purchase narcotics for her, she saw two men alighting from a cab, one of them Brandon, carrying a television set. They entered the tavern and Boone approached her and asked if she would pawn the television set for them offering her $10 to do so. Since she did not have proper identification, she suggested that perhaps her friend Louis Cook could help. She further testified that after Cook pawned the set she overheard Cook and Boone arguing about money and eventually she saw Boone hand Cook a sum of money.

Ernest Clark, another prosecution witness, testified that he was familiar with Boone from having seen him around the neighborhood. On February 23, 1965 Boone approached Clark and asked him if he was interested in purchasing a pawn ticket or television set. After visiting the pawn shop and inspecting the set, Clark bought the ticket and had the pawnbroker transfer the set to his name. The day after he redeemed the set, Clark was visited by the police, who instructed him to bring the set to the precinct.

In addition to the foregoing evidence, the People introduced a formal confession made by Brandon. This confession, which was technically inadmissible against and highly prejudicial to Boone (see People v. Adams, 21 N.Y.2d 397, 288 N.Y.S.2d 225, 235 N.E.2d 214) asserted, Inter alia, that Boone struck Brooks, that Boone went to pawn the television set and later also pawned a suit stolen from Brooks' apartment, and that Brandon and Boone used the pawn money to buy heroin.

Since each defendant raises different arguments on this appeal, we treat with their cases separately.

With Respect to Brandon

On May 20, 1966 a pretrial hearing as to the voluntariness of Brandon's alleged statements was commenced. On June 1, 1966 the hearing concluded with a finding that the statements were voluntarily given. Not until June 22, 1966, however, was any evidence received on the trial concerning the statements and not until June 23, 1966 were the statements offered in evidence.

Brandon contends that, although his trial commenced before the decision in Miranda v. State of Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, his statements should have been ruled inadmissible since he was not given the four-fold 'Miranda' warning at the time he was interrogated. We cannot agree with this conclusion.

In Johnson v. State of New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719, 86 S.Ct. 1772, 16 L.Ed.2d 882 decided on June 20, 1966, three days before the statements in this case were admitted in evidence, the Supreme Court held 'that Escobedo and Miranda should apply only to cases commenced after those decisions were announced' (Johnson v. State of New Jersey, supra, p. 733, 86 S.Ct. p. 1781). And in People v. McQueen (18 N.Y.2d 337, 274 N.Y.S.2d 886, 221 N.E.2d 550) this court refused to apply a greater measure of retroactivity to Miranda than had been applied by the Supreme Court in Johnson, although Johnson made it clear that State courts were free to do so.

Brandon, however, attempts to distinguish Johnson and McQueen from the instant case by pointing out that in those cases the defendants' trials had been completed prior to the Miranda decision and the defendants were either in the process of direct appeal or had gained access to the appellate court by means of a postconviction remedy. He contends that in this case the trial was still in progress at the time Miranda was handed down and, since Miranda was then the law of the land, it was error to receive his statement in evidence. We do not find this distinction to be vital, for it is also true that at the time the confessions were introduced Johnson v. State of New Jersey (supra) was the law of the land. As noted earlier, the Supreme Court made it quite clear that Miranda should not be applied where the trial had commenced before June 13, 1966 (Johnson v. State of New Jersey, supra, 384 U.S. pp. 732--734, 86 S.Ct. 1772). Moreover, in People v. McQueen (supra) this court squarely held the constitutional mandates of Miranda would apply only to defendants whose trial commenced on or after June 13, 1966. Brandon has presented no argument which compels us to deviate from this holding.

Nor is it unreasonable to deprive Brandon of the benefits of Miranda. Brandon insists, not without justification, that his trial should have been governed by contemporaneous evidentiary rules and constitutional standards. This, however, is precisely what happened for, at the time the jury was first apprised of the confession, that is, during the prosecutor's opening address, the law in this jurisdiction was clear that there was no exclusion because of a failure on the part of the arresting authorities spontaneously to advise a defendant of his constitutional rights (see, e.g., People v. Gunner, 15 N.Y.2d 226, 257 N.Y.S.2d 924, 205 N.E.2d 852 (1965)). Moreover, the assistant district attorney in charge of the prosecution was obliged by statute to open to the jury (Code Crim.Proc., § 388), which opening must, of course, fairly outline the principal facets of the People's case (see People v. Levine, 297 N.Y. 144, 77 N.E.2d 129 (1948)). The contents of Brandon's confession could not very well have been omitted from this synopsis, nor at the time was there any need to do so, for it is clear that the prosecutor relied in good faith upon existing law under which the procedures followed were entirely proper. It is true that subsequently during the course of the trial, the law as to the admissibility of confessions was substantially altered by the Miranda decision. This change, however, came too late in the sequence of events to be of benefit to appellant, for the jury already knew (properly under existing law) that Brandon had confessed to Brooks' murder.

Considerations such as these must have influenced the Supreme Court in its decision to limit Miranda to trials commenced after the date of its publication, for surely the court was aware that there were trials then in progress in which confessions, invalid by Miranda criteria, had already been disclosed or introduced into evidence. In order, then, not to disrupt current trial in which such evidence had been properly previously offered, the court held in Johnson, that the rule of Miranda would operate only for trials begun after the date Miranda was published. Had the court intended otherwise, it could have said that Miranda would apply to trials commencing after June 13, 1966 as well as to trials already in progress on that date.

Essentially, then, it is appellant's misfortune that he was brought to trial before June 13; since he received a fair trial by then-existing standards, however, he had no cause to complain--at least no more cause than anyone else tried before that date.

Brandon further argues that he was denied due process of law and equal protection of the law in that 'upon the same set of facts a confession would be ruled inadmissible in a case on trial which trial commenced after June 13, 1966 while in (Brandon's) case because of the fact that his trial commenced prior to June 13, 1966 a different ruling on admissibility applied.' Suffice it to say, first, that this argument was thoroughly considered in the several opinions contained in the McQueen case, and second, in announcing the June 13, 1966 cut-off date in Johnson v. State of New Jersey, the Supreme Court observed 'that there are no jurisprudential or Constitutional obstacles to the rule we are adopting here' (Johnson v. State of New Jersey, supra, 384 U.S. p. 733, 86 S.Ct. p. 1781; emphasis added).

Prior to trial Brandon moved to suppress the use of his confession on the ground that it was extracted by virtue of fear and duress. After a hearing, held in accordance with our decision in People v. Huntley, 15 N.Y.2d 72, 255 N.Y.S.2d 838, 204 N.E.2d 179, the Trial Judge found that the People had proved beyond a...

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