Brief Fact Summary. A jury convicted Julius Lynes (Appellant) of rape, sodomy, robbery, and burglary; the Appellate Division affirmed the conviction. At trial, evidence of a phone conversation between a police detective and a person claiming to be Appellant was admitted, as was evidence of oral statements Appellant made to the police before being advised of his constitutional rights. Appellant appeals his conviction here, claiming that both items of evidence were improperly admitted.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. At a criminal defendant’s trial, in order for statements made by the criminal defendant to a police officer while on the phone to be admissible as evidence, the trial judge must determine “that the proffered proof permits the drawing of inferences which make it improbable that the caller’s voice belongs to anyone other than the purported caller.” Also, the trial judge is the proper party to determine whether a criminal defendant’s statement was “reasonably triggered by police conduct which should reasonably have been anticipated to evoke a declaration from the defendant”; if it was no, then any statements made by a criminal defendant are voluntary and admissible against him.
Did the trial court error in admitting into evidence the telephone conversation between the police detective and the person claiming to be Appellant?
Did the trial court error in admitting into evidence the oral statements Appellant made (that he had ‘taken care of’ a woman) to the police officer while in custody and without having been advised of his constitutional rights?
No; a sufficient foundation was laid to permit the trial court to find ‘that the conversation was one with the party against whom it was offered,’ and therefore the evidence of the phone conversation was properly admitted.
No; the conduct of the officer to whom Appellant made the statement could not have reasonably been anticipated to elicit a response from Appellant and therefore, since Appellant made the statement voluntarily, neither his, ‘right to remain silent nor his right to counsel were abridged,’ and, accordingly, the evidence was properly admitted.
Discussion. The court addressed each issue separately, diving its comments between the two issues.
As to the phone conversation evidence, the court reasoned that, given all the circumstances surrounding the call, the identity of the person who spoke with the detective was properly found to be Appellant. Specifically, the court stated: while in each case the issue is one to be decided upon its own peculiar facts, in the first instance the Judge who presides over the trial must determine that the proffered proof permits the drawing of inferences which make it improbable that the caller’s voice belongs to anyone other than the purported caller . . . [s]o measured, it was not error for the court to overrule the objection. The call was made to the detective after he had made a specific request that the defendant call and had left his name and telephone number for that very purpose with a man purporting to be defendant’s brother. The promptness of the call — within a few hours of this invitation — can be said to impart a quality of reflexiveness that tends to undermine the chance
that the invitation and the response are connected by only a post hoc ergo propter hoc rationalization . . . Moreover, aside from the immediacy of the response, the court could weigh such factors as the caller’s seeming ability to track the message left for the defendant, specifically in asking to speak to [the] Detective . . . and in using his own formal name as provided by the brother as well as [his nickname].
As to the remarks Appellant made to his police escort, the court reasoned that there was no ‘invitation, much less urging or coaxing . . . [rather, Appellant] poured out an incriminatory comment . . . .’ Therefore, the court reasoned, no Miranda warning needed to have been given. The court went on: although we have noted that incriminatory statements are not rendered spontaneous simply because they are precipitated by subtle forms of interrogation rather than blatantly coercive techniques . . . the nature of the brief exchange between [Appellant] and the police officer in this case does not compel a finding as a matter of law that the statement was not spontaneous. [Appellant] himself initiated the conversation and the officer’s response need not have been viewed as one designed to elicit some further reply.