2015 NY Slip Op 04676
The order of the Appellate Division should be reversed and remitted to Family Court.
Eleven year old Delroy was involved in a juvenile delinquency hearing that involved assault and attempted assault in the first, second, third degree. These charges arose during an incident with a 12 year old victim complainant, who was stabbed during an altercation. A motion was made to suppress a statement made to officers and a knife that was recovered at the scene. The testimony in question involved an interview with Delroy’s sister saying that her brother had been bullied, the two boys had fought, and Deloy had stabbed the victim.
When the officers found Delroy, they didn’t give Miranda warnings and asked what had happened. Delroy said he had gotten into a fight with the complainant and stabbed him.
The Family Court denied the motion to suppress. They concluded that Delroy had committed second degree assault, criminal possession of a weapon, criminal possession of stolen property in the 5th and petit larceny.
The Appellate Division held that the statement should be suppressed based on the fact that it was considered a custodial interrogation (113 AD3d 448 ). It said however the statement was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and there was overwhelming evidence of his guilt. The Apppellate Court vacated the petit larceny and criminal possession of stolen property charge as unsupported. They did not feel it was necessary to disturb the custodial interrogation issue.
This court disagrees that the error violating a constitutional right is considered harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, only if there is no possibility that it contributed to the defendant’s conviction (People v. Crimmins 36 NY2d 230, 237 . The court said that they are considered in light of the strength of the case against the plaintiff and the weight of the evidence submitted (People v. Goldstein 6 NY3d 119, 129 , cert. denied 547 US 1159 .
There was no doubt that the defendant stabbed the victim. The plaintiff also relies on the defense of justification that allows deadly force when one reasonably believes that deadly force is being used against them or will be imminently used (People v Watts 57 NY2d 299, 301, Penal Law 35.15 [a]. This defense is qualified by a duty to retreat.
The people bear the burden of disproving the defense of justification beyond a reasonable doubt (matter of Y.K. 87 NY2d 430, 433 . On the night in question, Delroy alleges that he didn’t use the knife until deadly force was used on him. Thought the People argue that the defendant was able to get out a chokehold and step back before pulling the knife. Contrary to the Appellate Division, there wasn’t compelling evidence that the defendant knew that he could have retreated (Penal Law 35.15).
There is no clear indication that the evidence in question could have contributed to a guilty ruling. The failure to suppress was a determination to the case. The opinion is reversed.
This case brings up an issue regarding Miranda warnings being given to juvenile offenders. The sheer number of juvenile offenders has been rising in New York exponentially over the past several years. As with an adult offender, all defendants have a 5th Amendment right to remain silent during a custodial interrogation. If a police officer arrests and interrogates an underage suspect, a Miranda warning must be given. The suspect can either “take the 5th” or waive their right and answer questions.
This moment in time is an important one, particularly because there is a question as to whether a child has the mental capacity to understand what they are waiving or agreeing to.
While the Supreme Court has spoken on this issue and basically said children should be treated like children, the State of New York hasn’t agreed. While New York agrees that special care should be taken with minors, the safeguards that have been put in place to protect juveniles may be considered by some to be insufficient.
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