Citation. SPANO v. NEW YORK, 360 U.S. 315, 79 S. Ct. 1202, 3 L. Ed. 2d 1265, 1959 U.S. LEXIS 751 (U.S. June 22, 1959)
Brief Fact Summary. An individual was accused of murdering another individual after the victim took his money from a bar.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “[The] petitioner’s will was overborne by official pressure, fatigue and sympathy falsely aroused, after considering all the facts in their post-indictment setting.”
The Petitioner, Vincent Spano (the “Petitioner”), was born in Italy, but is a citizen of the United States. The Petitioner was accused of shooting a boxer who took his money from a bar. The Petitioner followed the victim out of the bar to get his money back and an altercation ensued, during which the boxer knocked the Petitioner down and hit him several times. The Petitioner was beaten severely by the boxer. After the altercation, the Petitioner went home and got a gun and thereafter shot the boxer. The Petitioner found the boxer in a store and the only witness was a boy who was supervising the store. The Petitioner thereafter disappeared for about a week.
The Petitioner was indicted for first-degree murder and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. The Petitioner called a good friend, Gaspar Bruno (“Bruno”), who was aspiring to become a police officer. He told Bruno what happened on the day of the alleged murder, that he was going to get a lawyer and turn himself in. Bruno informed his supervisors of the Petitioner’s plans. The next day, the Petitioner along with counsel turned himself in. The Petitioner’s attorney told him not to answer any questions when he was left in the custody of certain police officers. Thereafter, he was taken to the assistant district attorney’s office and questioning began. The Petitioner refused to answer any questions pursuant to his attorney’s advice.
At some point, the questioning officers and individuals from the district attorney’s office decided that Bruno could be of use. Bruno was told to tell the Petitioner that the Petitioner’s speaking to him got him in a lot of trouble. Also, that Bruno and his family would be negatively impacted. This line of questioning did not produce any results and the Petitioner again sought to see his attorney, but the request was denied. After a fourth attempt to speak to the Petitioner, he finally agreed to make a statement. The officers then took the Petitioner to the bridge where he threw the gun from and during that trip he stated the boxer was always “on [his] back”, “always pushing” him and that he was “not sorry” he shot the boxer.
At trial, the confession was introduced over the Petitioner’s objections. The Petitioner was found guilty and sentenced to death. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.
Issue. “[W]hether [the] confession was properly admitted into evidence under the Fourteenth Amendment[?]”
Held. The conviction cannot stand. “As in all such cases, we are forced to resolve a conflict between two fundamental interests of society; its interest in prompt and efficient law enforcement, and its interest in preventing the rights of its individual members from being abridged by unconstitutional methods of law enforcement.”
“Petitioner was a foreign-born young man of 25 with no past history of law violation or of subjection to official interrogation, at least insofar as the record shows. He had progressed only one-half year into high school and the record indicates that he had a history of emotional instability. He did not make a narrative statement, but was subject to the leading questions of a skillful prosecutor in a question and answer confession. He was subjected to questioning not by a few men, but by many.