People v. Valerius

Citation286 N.E.2d 254,31 N.Y.2d 51,334 N.Y.S.2d 871
Parties, 286 N.E.2d 254 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Joseph VALERIUS, Appellant.
Decision Date06 July 1972
CourtNew York Court of Appeals

Stephen L. Oppenheim, Monticello, for appellant.

Louis B. Scheinman, Dist. Atty., for respondent.

FULD, Chief Judge.

On January 20, 1969, a fire of suspicious origin damaged a building in Monticello. The defendant, a 24-year-old laborer, with a history of mental illness, was questioned by the police in a local station house and, after denying that he had been involved, agreed to a lie detector test. Taken to the State Police barracks in another city, he was closeted alone in a polygraph room with Officer J. F. Cotter for some four and a half hours, from 12 midnight to about 4:30 A.M., when he finally confessed. Immediately turned over by Cotter to another officer, R. R. Fuente, he repeated his story. It is his claim that his confession was coerced by the physical and mental abuse to which he was subjected by Officer Cotter.

Following his indictment for the crime of arson in the second degree, he challenged the voluntariness of the confession. Officer Cotter, the defendant declared at the Huntley hearing, became angry when, after hours of questioning, he persisted in denying his guilt and refused the officer's request to 'admit' that he was responsible for the fire in Monticello as well as fires in other cities. Then, he continued, as he 'started getting very sleepy and doze(d) off in the chair * * * (Cotter) pushed my head back and smacked my head on back of the chair' and, later, when he again 'started to doze off', he held 'my head up by the forelock on my hair (and) said why don't I admit it, get it over with.' 'Finally' the defendant concluded--after Cotter had 'resumed all over again, same questions, same answers and everything'--'I got fed up, I said I was going to admit it so he would leave me alone so I could get some sleep.' 1 He thereupon gave Cotter a confession.

The prosecution did not call Officer Cotter and did not offer any explanation or reason for its failure to do so. 2 Despite the defendant's uncontradicted testimony as to his treatment at the hands of Cotter, the court ruled the confession voluntary and, accordingly, it was received in evidence upon the trial. The jury found the defendant guilty of third degree arson, and a divided Appellate Division affirmed the resulting judgment (36 A.D.2d 671, 318 N.Y.S.2d 883.).

The conviction must be reversed; in our view, the voluntariness of the defendant's confession was not, as required by law, proven beyond a reasonable doubt. (See, e.g., People v. Huntley, 15 N.Y.2d 72, 78, 255 N.Y.S.2d 838, 843, 204 N.E.2d 179, 183; People v. Leonti, 18 N.Y.2d 384, 389, 275 N.Y.S.2d 825, 829, 222 N.E.2d 591, 594; People v. Anthony, 24 N.Y.2d 696, 701--702, 301 N.Y.S.2d 961, 963--964, 249 N.E.2d 747, 748--749.) In the present case, it was the defendant's testimony that he had been physically and mentally abused by Officer Cotter and that he confessed only because of that abuse. This testimony, undenied and uncontradicted, since the People failed to call Cotter to challenge the defendant's story, virtually compels the conclusion that the confession was not violuntarily given. 'Under such circumstances,' as Presiding Justice Herlihy, dissenting below, observed (36 A.D.2d, at p. 673, 318 N.Y.S.2d, at p. 887), 'where the People had control of the witness and his availability was not questioned, the trial court should have assumed that Cotter's testimony would be unfavorable to the People and thus corroborative of the defendant's claim of abuse.' (See, also, Noce v. Kaufman, 2 N.Y.2d 347, 353, 161 N.Y.S.2d 1, 141 N.E.2d 529; People v. Moore, 17 A.D.2d 57, 59, 230 N.Y.S.2d 880, 882; Laffin v. Ryan, 4 A.D.2d 21, 25--26, 162 N.Y.S.2d 730, 734--735; 2 Wigmore (3d ed., 1940), p. 163.) Since it is manifest that the defendant's statement to Officer Fuente immediately after leaving the polygraph room stemmed from the treatment to which he had assertedly been subjected by Cotter, the second statement must be deemed part of one continuous process. The taint underlying the first confession rendered the second likewise inadmissible. (See, e.g., People v. Ruppert, 26...

To continue reading

Request your trial
83 cases
  • People v. McClam, 2014NA008748.
    • United States
    • New York District Court
    • March 30, 2015
    ...made before their admission into evidence on the People's case in chief at trial. People v. Huntely, supra.; People v. Valeruis, 31 N.Y.2d 51, 334 N.Y.S.2d 871 (1972) ; People v. Anderson, 42 N.Y.2d 35, 396 N.Y.S.2d 625 (1977). Once the prosecution has met this burden, the Defendant has the......
  • People v. Rosa
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • July 11, 1985
    ...38-39, 396 N.Y.S.2d 625, 364 N.E.2d 1318; People v. Yarter, 41 N.Y.2d 830, 393 N.Y.S.2d 399, 361 N.E.2d 1047; People v. Valerius, 31 N.Y.2d 51, 334 N.Y.S.2d 871, 286 N.E.2d 254; People v. Huntley, 15 N.Y.2d 72, 255 N.Y.S.2d 838, 204 N.E.2d 179). 2 Mindful, however, that the statutory defini......
  • People v. Rodriguez
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • December 2, 1985
    ...35, 38-39 [396 N.Y.S.2d 625, 364 N.E.2d 1318]; People v. Yarter, 41 NY2d 830 [393 N.Y.S. 399, 361 N.E.2d 1047]; People v. Valerius, 31 NY2d 51 [334 N.Y.S.2d 871, 286 N.E.2d 254]; People v. Huntley, 15 NY2d 72 [255 N.Y.S.2d 838, 204 N.E.2d 179] ) * * * Mindful, however, that the statutory de......
  • People v. Roger
    • United States
    • New York County Court
    • January 20, 2012
    ...into evidence on the People's case in chief at trial. People v. Huntely, 15 N.Y.2d 72, 255 N.Y.S.2d 838 (1965); People v. Valeruis, 31 N.Y.2d 51, 334 N.Y.S.2d 871 (1972); People v. Anderson, 42 N.Y.2d 35, 396 N.Y.S.2d 625 (1977). In an attempt to meet their burden, the People relied exclusi......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT