We cannot agree with the Appellate Division that, in the circumstances of this case, the admission into evidence of statements taken from defendant in violation of his constitutional rights was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
Late in the afternoon of January 24, 1978, the body of Elodie Henschel was found in her New Rochelle apartment by the assistant manager of the building. Investigation disclosed that she had been brutally killed and that two diamond rings which she wore were gone.
In the course of the police investigation, on January 25, 1978 three officers went to the second floor apartment over the ground floor apartment of the deceased and in which her body had been found. On arrival the police found defendant present. The apartment was occupied by the Flaherty family, and Lynn Flaherty was his girlfriend. The police were aware of defendant inasmuch as he had previously voluntarily furnished them with some general information as to having seen a "group of suspicious people" near the scene of the homicide. Although he was not then a suspect, the police brought defendant to police headquarters for questioning. On arrival, without being given his constitutional preinterrogation warnings, defendant was questioned concerning his whereabouts on January 23 and 24, 1978. He answered that he was a student at the Educage School in White Plains and that on his way to school on January 23, at about 8:55 A.M., he had stopped off at the White Plains Mall and there had tripped over a curb, injuring his knee. He had left the school at noon and had gone with his friend Robert Shafran back to the White Plains Mall and then on to Nicky's luncheonette on Mamaroneck Avenue, White Plains, where they had remained until 1:00 P.M. Then someone named "Bob" had driven him home where he had stayed until Lynn Flaherty had picked him up at 2:30 and driven him to her home in New Rochelle.
Defendant was not arrested on the present charges until a year later on January 26, 1979. A felony complaint was filed on January 27, 1979 and defendant was indicted on January 30, 1979.
Defendant's motion to suppress the statements that he made to the police on January 25, 1978 was denied by the suppression court which found that defendant had agreed to accompany the officers to police headquarters, that he was not in custody, and that the statements he made were voluntary.
At the trial there was extensive testimony that on January 20, 1978 defendant and a fellow student, Robert Shafran, had discussed the theft of two diamond rings from Elodie Henschel; that defendant told Shafran that he would kill her if he had to; that on January 23, 1978 Shafran made arrangements with Robert Carpenter, another student who had access to his parents' automobile, to drive defendant and Shafran to the Henschel apartment; that when Carpenter drove them to the apartment they were also accompanied by another friend, Robert Benedict, who had come along for the ride; that at their destination defendant left, saying that he would be back in about 20 minutes; that when defendant returned his manner was jittery, he seemed upset and looked pale and that there was a bloodlike substance on his hands and clothing; that beneath his coat he was carrying something that looked like a tire iron; that he showed Shafran two diamond rings which appeared to have blood on them; that the four then
The detailed inculpatory testimony just recited came from Shafran,
The jury acquitted defendant of charges of common-law murder, felony murder, robbery, burglary and possession of a weapon, but convicted him of grand larceny in the second degree.
On appeal the Appellate Division affirmed defendant's conviction, holding that, although defendant's statements were improperly obtained (citing Dunaway v New York, 442 U.S. 200; and Brown v Illinois, 422 U.S. 590), the evidence of defendant's guilt was overwhelming and accordingly that the erroneous admission of his statements (characterized as "entirely exculpatory") was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
First, we accept the factual determination implicit in the opinion at the Appellate Division, namely that defendant, then 16 years old, did not voluntarily accompany the police
Because, as conceded, defendant was not given his constitutional preinterrogation warnings before he was questioned at police headquarters, his constitutional rights were violated, and the erroneous admission of the evidence so obtained calls for reversal of his conviction, unless, as the Appellate Division concluded, the admission of his statements was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
At this point we depart in a critical aspect from our agreement with the Appellate Division. We do not disagree that the testimony of defendant's accomplices, without reference to defendant's own statements, provided overwhelming proof of defendant's guilt, assuming as we do that there was the required corroborative evidence. Thus the threshold requirement for harmless error analysis is
There is at least a superficial appearance of incongruity in the conviction of defendant on the grand larceny count accompanied by his acquittal on all the other charges arising out of the occurrences of January 23, 1978. That appearance of incongruity suggests that the jury in convicting defendant of grand larceny may have relied on the testimony of Shafran and Carpenter that defendant went to New York City on January 24 to fence the two diamond rings — evidence which related principally to the grand larceny charge — as probative of his actions the preceding day. Additionally the jury may have taken defendant's statement that he went to New York City on the train with Shafran as supplying the independent evidence necessary to corroborate the testimony of Shafran and Carpenter (assuming they found the latter to be an accomplice). Whether this was taken as corroboration or not,
In view of this conclusion we do not reach or consider defendant's other assignments of error.
Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be reversed, defendant's conviction vacated, his statements suppressed, and the case remitted to Supreme Court for further proceedings with respect to the ninth count in the indictment (that of grand larceny in the second degree).
Order reversed, conviction vacated, defendant's statements suppressed and case remitted to Supreme Court, Westchester County, for further proceedings with respect to the ninth count of the indictment.