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People v. Lynes

    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.

    Facts. Appellant was wanted for various crimes and, when a police detective located a man claiming to be Appellant’s brother, the detective left his name and telephone number with the man and requested that the man instruct Appellant to call the detective. Hours after leaving his information with the man claiming to be Appellant’s brother, the detective received a call from an individual who identified himself as Appellant and who asked for the detective by name.
    The detective told the man that a knife belonging to Appellant had been found in an apartment, to which the man who claimed to be Appellant responded, ‘oh no oh no.’
    At Appellant’s trial, the phone conversation’s contents were allowed into evidence. Also allowed into evidence at Appellant’s trial was a statement made by Appellant to a police officer following an arraignment of Appellant on a charge unrelated to the instant one.
    At Appellant’s arraignment, the Judge told Appellant that there was a warrant for his arrest. When Appellant questioned a police officer that subsequently led him from the courtroom about the warrant, the officer stated, ‘you should know, they are looking for you.’ Appellant voluntarily told his police escort that he had, ‘taken care of’ a woman and it was that act that was likely what the warrant was for. Appellant had not been read his constitutional rights when he made the statement to his escort.

    Issues.
    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?

    Held. Affirmed.
    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.


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