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Court of Appeals denies ‘bold request’

Voluntary post-Miranda statements remain admissible for impeachment


From left, U.S. Magistrate Judge, WDNY, Jeremiah J. McCarthy; New York State Court of Appeals Associate Judge Eugene F. Pigott, Jr.; and Appellate Division, Fourth Department Justice Erin M. Peradotto hear the final arguments.

New York State Court of Appeals Associate Judge Eugene F. Pigott, Jr., center, rejected an effort by a defense attorney to keep prosecutors from using all post-Miranda statements. (File Photo).

The New York state Court of Appeals has denied the “bold request” of a defense lawyer who sought a new rule to keep prosecutors from using all post-Miranda statements from defendants.

“The rule proposed by defendant would render inadmissible for impeachment purposes any statement elicited by law enforcement after the defendant invokes the right to remain silent,” Judge Eugene F. Pigott Jr. wrote in the decision released Tuesday.

“The adoption of such a rule, however, would require us to overrule our own decision in (People v Harris) and its progeny, and would effectively sanction perjury on the part of a testifying defendant by permitting the defendant to offer testimony that is inconsistent or at odds with the defendant’s prior statements,” Pigott wrote.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Harris v New York, defendants who make statements after hearing their Miranda rights and initially choosing to remain silent can have a post-Miranda statement used against them if they testify at trial.

Allowing such statements to be used by prosecutors as long as they are voluntary — and not the result of coercion, false promises or prolonged interrogation — is intended to prevent a defendant from being able to blatantly lie on the stand without repercussions.

But, critics claim, police officers aware of the Harris rule can use it to their advantage by finding ways to get a defendant to keep on talking post-Miranda while staying within the bounds of the rule.

By doing so, a defendant can be essentially prevented from testifying out of fear that any contradictory statements will be used to impeach his or her testimony, critics say.

Kathleen P. Reardon, of the Monroe County Conflict Defender’s Office, acknowledged during oral arguments before the Court of Appeals on Sept. 8 that what she was seeking was “a bold request to the court.”

Reardon is representing Charles K. Wilson, a codefendant who was convicted in 2007 of several charges related a home invasion and shooting that happened in Rochester in 2006.

After being read his Miranda rights, Wilson told police, “I have nothing to say.” An officer mentioned the name of the codefendant and Wilson at first denied knowing him. But after police told him the codefendant shot and injured himself shortly after the robbery Wilson indicated he did know the man.

A police investigator testified at a suppression hearing that he knew information obtained after a defendant invokes his right to remain silent can’t be used in the prosecution’s direct case, but he knew from training that it might be used in cross-examination or rebuttal if the defendant testifies.

Wilson, 46, did not testify and was convicted of several charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Reardon told the Court of Appeals that allowing post-Miranda statements encourages unlawful police conduct because they use illegally obtained statements to prevent a defendant from testifying.

Assistant Monroe County District Attorney Robert J. Shoemaker said during the oral arguments that Reardon’s request would overturn decades of precedent and allow defendants to commit perjury without repercussion and threaten the truth-seeking function of the trial.