People failed to demonstrate that Defendant understood Miranda Warnings – New Trial Ordered


The People of the State of New York failed to demonstrate that the defendant understood the Miranda warnings and his statement, therefore, such statements should have been suppressed. Here, the “defendant was charged, inter alia, with robbery in the second degree and criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree based on allegations that he personally, or acting in concert with others, committed robberies in two stores in Brooklyn.” He was convicted of robbery in the second degree (three counts) and criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree. The Court “Ordered that the judgment is reversed, on the law, the defendant’s motion to suppress his statements to law enforcement officials is granted, and a new trial is ordered.”

Once the right to counsel is invoked, a New York Defendant has the indelible right to counsel. Police cannot question a New York Defendant once that Defendant demands an attorney. This case is a hallmark example of how Miranda rights can be skirted and, sometimes, disregarded when a Defendant is not of sound capacity, mind or understanding as to his constitutional rights, his Miranda rights, and how to exercise those rights. Involuntarily given statements are inadmissible. The court sets out the hallmark factors of admissibility of a Defendant’s statement:

“[F]or a statement to be admissible, the People must prove a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of the privilege against self-incrimination” (People v Aveni, 100 AD3d 228, 236 [2012] [citation omitted]; see People v Rodney, 85 NY2d 289, 292 [1995]; People v Williams, 62 NY2d 285, 288 [1984]). “Whether a defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his or her rights to remain silent and to an attorney is determined upon an inquiry into the totality of the circumstances surrounding the interrogation” (People v Santos, 112 AD3d 757, 758 [2013] [internal quotation marks omitted]; see People v Williams, 62 NY2d at 288), including the defendant’s “age, experience, education, background, and intelligence, and . . . whether he [or she] has the capacity to understand the warnings given him [or her], the nature of his [or her] Fifth Amendment rights, and the consequences of waiving those rights” (Fare v Michael C., 442 US 707, 725 [1979]). Where a “person of subnormal intelligence” is involved, “close scrutiny must be made of the circumstances of the asserted waiver” (People v Williams, 62 NY2d at 289).

“A defendant’s mental deficiency weighs against the admissibility of an elicited confession, so that any such confession must be measured by the degree of the defendant’s awareness of the nature of the rights being abandoned and the consequences of the decision to abandon them” (People v Dunn, 195 AD2d 240, 242 [1994], affd 85 NY2d 956 [1995]). A suspect of “subnormal intelligence” may effectively waive his or her Miranda rights “so long as it is established that he or she understood the immediate meaning of the warnings” (People v Williams, 62 NY2d at 287), that is, “how the Miranda rights affected the custodial interrogation” (id. at 289). Therefore, it must be shown that the suspect “grasped that he or she did not have to speak to the interrogator; that any statement might be used to the subject’s disadvantage; and that an attorney’s assistance would be provided upon request, at any time, and before questioning is continued. What will suffice to meet this burden will vary from one case to the next” (id.).

The Court evaluates the circumstances in this case and finds that the following important factors should not allow the incriminating statements to be used against the Defendant:

  • The defendant’s expert testified that the defendant gave his history, reporting that he had emigrated as a child from Haiti,
  • that English was not his first language
  • that he had been placed in special education in this country.
  • The psychologist testified that the defendant’s IQ score was 53, and characterized him as being mildly mentally retarded or having borderline intellectual functioning.
  • Tests further revealed that the defendant’s score on a reading test was at the kindergarten level.
  • The psychologist further noted that her educational evaluation of the defendant was consistent with his records from a residential school for children with cognitive and intellectual deficits that he had attended, as his IQ score was consistently between 40 or 50 and
  • he had been diagnosed as moderately mentally retarded, mentally retarded, or with borderline intellectual functioning.
  • The psychologist’s evaluation was also consistent with Kings County records, which reflected that an evaluation of the defendant between the ages of 12 and 14 revealed that he had emigrated from Haiti, spoke only Creole until age 13, had an IQ of 46, and was diagnosed as being moderately mentally retarded.
  • The Kings County records further noted that the defendant was a nonreader of both English and Creole, and that his listening comprehension skills were severely deficient.
  • The psychologist further testified that she tested the defendant’s understanding of the Miranda warnings and that the defendant did not understand the phrase, “you have the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer any questions,” and did not understand the phrase “you have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during any questioning now or in the future.”

Conclusion: “based upon the totality of the circumstances, that the People failed to meet their burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently waived his Miranda rights, and thus, the hearing court should have suppressed the defendant’s statements on that ground.” (citations omitted).

The case is People v Cleverin, 2016 NY Slip Op 04955, 140 AD3d 1080, (Appellate Division, Second Department June 22, 2016 )

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