People v. Paulman

Decision Date29 June 2005
Citation833 N.E.2d 239,5 N.Y.3d 122
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Kenneth J. PAULMAN, Appellant.
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

John E. Tyo, Shortsville, for appellant.

R. Michael Tantillo, District Attorney, Canandaigua (James B. Ritts of counsel), for respondent.

OPINION OF THE COURT

GRAFFEO, J.

During a child sexual abuse investigation, defendant made four incriminating statements to the police in successive interrogations spanning a period of several hours. The Appellate Division ruled that one of the statements was inadmissible because it had not been preceded by Miranda warnings. The primary issue presented in this case is whether two statements defendant made after he was given Miranda warnings and waived his right to remain silent should have been suppressed due to the prior, unwarned statement. Under the circumstances of this case, we conclude the subsequent statements were properly received in evidence.

In the spring of 2002, defendant Kenneth Paulman resided with his girlfriend in an apartment complex in Canandaigua, New York. The People offered evidence at the suppression hearing that, just after midnight on May 4, 2002, the police were contacted by the mother of Ashlyn, a four-year-old girl, who stated that she had information relating to a child sexual abuse investigation. That same night, defendant had called the police and reported that he had been threatened by members of Ashlyn's family. After speaking to Ashlyn's mother, New York State Trooper Jean Oliver and her partner went to defendant's apartment. Defendant answered the door and invited Trooper Oliver inside. Trooper Oliver told defendant that she was there to investigate some allegations of sexual abuse. Defendant spoke freely about the allegations, telling her that his girlfriend frequently babysat Ashlyn and Tiffany, an eight-year-old girl who also lived in the complex. He described an incident when he tickled the naked girls, who had just stepped out of their bath. During this incident, he claimed that he had accidentally slipped a finger into Ashlyn's vagina. Defendant also detailed other occasions when he and Ashlyn had been in bed and he had rubbed Ashlyn against his penis. When he was advised that Ashlyn had some redness near her vagina, defendant explained that this could have been from his finger or belt buckle. During this conversation, defendant took Trooper Oliver around the apartment and showed her the locations where the various incidents had occurred. Toward the end of their discussion, defendant mentioned the name of another girl from the complex, remarking that "[t]he only mistake I made was with Autumn." When asked what he meant, defendant admitted that he had engaged in sexual intercourse with Autumn, who defendant believed to be 12 years old (the police later established that Autumn was 13 years old).

Trooper Oliver next asked defendant to accompany her to the barracks to speak to an investigator. Defendant agreed and rode with the troopers in their patrol car. Upon arrival at the barracks, defendant was seated in the patrol room, an area with two open doors. Defendant was told that another State Police officer — Investigator Christopher Baldwin — would arrive shortly. In the meantime, Trooper Oliver gave defendant a notepad and said: "Why don't you just start taking some notes then as to, you know, your best recollection as to what has happened." Defendant composed a statement in which he repeated the admissions previously made concerning his physical contact with Ashlyn and Tiffany. As he was working on the statement, defendant told Trooper Oliver that he was hungry, and she brought him pizza and soda.

When Investigator Baldwin arrived at the barracks at about 3:00 A.M., he saw that defendant was in the patrol room writing on a notepad. Defendant finished the handwritten statement at about 3:30 A.M. He remained in the patrol room consuming his meal until approximately 4:00 A.M., at which time the investigator took defendant to his office at the back of the barracks. Investigator Baldwin read defendant his Miranda rights and defendant acknowledged that he understood them but wished to give a statement. The investigator then began questioning defendant concerning his contact with Ashlyn, Tiffany and Autumn. Defendant made a series of oral admissions, repeating what he had told Trooper Oliver and adding further details pertaining to the incidents. After defendant was again given Miranda warnings at 5:40 A.M., he signed a Miranda waiver and Investigator Baldwin began typing a written statement, recording defendant's answers to specific questions. Defendant initialed each page and signed the typewritten, question-and-answer statement, which was completed at 7:40 A.M. In this statement, in addition to the sexual contact he had earlier described, defendant admitted having engaged in oral sex with Ashlyn and Autumn and acknowledged incidents involving his girlfriend's two-year-old son and another 12-year-old girl in the complex. At the conclusion of the interrogation, defendant was formally placed under arrest.

Defendant was charged in a 22-count indictment with sexual misconduct involving five children who resided in the complex.1 Prior to trial, he moved to suppress all four of the statements made to the police: the oral statements to Trooper Oliver made in his apartment; the handwritten statement he wrote in the patrol room; the oral statements to Investigator Baldwin elicited in Baldwin's office; and the typewritten statement that followed. Defense counsel argued that the first two statements should be suppressed because they were not preceded by Miranda warnings. Although the last two statements were obtained after Miranda warnings, defendant claimed they were also inadmissible because they were tainted by the prior, unwarned custodial interrogation.

The suppression court concluded that all of the statements were admissible at trial. With respect to the initial admissions made at defendant's apartment, the court held that Miranda warnings were not necessary because defendant was not in police custody. The court found that defendant was in custody when he made the handwritten statement in the patrol room but that the statement was admissible because defendant was not subjected to interrogation. Having rejected defendant's argument that the first two statements were improperly elicited in violation of the Miranda rule, the court also rejected defendant's claim that the third and fourth statements — concededly made after defendant was advised of his Miranda rights — should be suppressed.

At trial, all four of defendant's statements were received in evidence. In addition, three of the child victims testified against defendant. The four-year-old victim did not testify, but defendant's abuse of that child was described by another victim. At the close of proof, defendant was convicted of 13 counts of the 22-count indictment.2 A determinate sentence of 17 years was imposed for the most serious charge of sodomy in the first degree, a consecutive sentence of 2 to 6 years was imposed for one count of rape in the second degree and lesser concurrent sentences were ordered for the other offenses.

On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed the conviction. The Court disagreed with the suppression court's analysis with respect to the handwritten statement, finding that it should have been suppressed because Trooper Oliver's suggestion that defendant write down his thoughts was the functional equivalent of interrogation, thereby requiring Miranda warnings. Despite this error, the Court concluded that reversal was not warranted because the first, third and fourth statements were properly received in evidence and the improper admission of the second statement amounted to harmless error. Although our analysis differs in some respects from that of the Appellate Division, we also affirm.

In this Court, defendant has abandoned his argument that the first statement — the oral admissions he made to Trooper Oliver in his apartment — should have been suppressed. Conceding that these initial comments were admissible at trial, defendant now contends that the remaining three statements should have been suppressed because the police error in failing to give Miranda warnings prior to eliciting the second, handwritten statement tainted each of the subsequent statements, even though they were preceded by Miranda warnings.

The People continue to argue that defendant was not subjected to custodial interrogation when he made the handwritten statement and, as such, there was no Miranda violation. In the alternative, the People submit that even if the handwritten statement was inadmissible as the Appellate Division determined, the subsequent Mirandized statements were nonetheless admissible because they were not part of an unbroken, continuous chain of events flowing from the prior, unwarned statement. Since the admissions in the handwritten statement were the same as those in the other statements, the People maintain that its receipt into evidence at trial was harmless error.

I.

Because the People assert that the Appellate Division erred in concluding that the handwritten statement should have been suppressed, our first task is to address the custodial interrogation issue. Whether a suspect has been subjected to custodial interrogation presents a mixed question of law and fact over which this Court has limited powers of review (People v. Cruz, 90 N.Y.2d 961, 665 N.Y.S.2d 46, 687 N.E.2d 1329 [1997]; People v. Harrison, 82 N.Y.2d 693, 601 N.Y.S.2d 573, 619 N.E.2d 651 [1993]; People v. Harrison, 57 N.Y.2d 470, 477, 457 N.Y.S.2d 199, 443 N.E.2d 447 [1982]). The determination of the Appellate Division must be affirmed unless there is no record basis for the conclusion it reached.

The Miranda rule protects the privilege against self-incrimination and, "because the privilege applies only when an accused is `comp...

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