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#342 Third Department Caselaw Round-Up for April 12, 2012, Part 1 of 5

342 Post 04-12-12, Part 1 Third Department April.pngFirst a male monster, and then a female monster. And there is but one word for each: affirmed. The second case also serves as an interesting analysis of Miranda warnings.

342 Post-2 Albany County.pngCase #216 #15025
People v. Mitchell
Albany County-Breslin Issues: Criminal Charges Cited statutes: PL §15.05, 120.05, 120.25, 260.10 Affirmed

The defendant brutalized one of his infant daughters due to, among other things, his frustration over the child’s crying. As a result, the infant sustained bilateral broken tibias and bilateral broken fibulas, both near the ankles. The defendant admitted to repeated assaults on the infant child to a detective. He also admitted to swinging the infant by her ankles. Unbelievable.

The defendant was convicted on all counts of assault in the second degree, reckless endangerment in the first degree, and endangering the welfare of a child. The defendant was sentenced to 7 years in prison for the assault count, with 5 years of post-release supervision, a consecutive term of 3 ½ to 7 years in prison for the reckless endangerment count, and a concurrent term of 1 year in jail on the endangering count.

The defendant appealed.

The defendant’s principal arguments on appeal were as follows:
1. The indictment was defective for failing to comprehensively list the counts against the defendant;
2. The court erred in amending the first count of the indictment;
3. The court erred in failing to dismiss the indictment;
4. The court erred in failing to suppress the defendant’s statements;
5. The defendant’s statements were coerced;
6. The defendant’s written statement and a videotape of the defendant making statements were fake; and 7. The verdict was against the weight of the evidence.

The Third Department did not agree with any of the arguments.

342 Post-3 Chemung County.pngCase #217 #103882
People v. Engelhart
Chemung County-Buckley Issues: Criminal Charges Cited statutes: None Affirmed

The defendant allegedly killed her 21-month old stepson via methanol poisoning, specifically window washer fluid.

All you need to know of the defendant’s guilt is this chilling sentence: “during the ensuing investigation, police, with [the] defendant’s consent, took a computer from her home, conducted a forensic examination on its hard drive and determined that an Internet search on poisoning had been performed on the computer shortly before the child’s death.” Thank god for stupid criminals.

The defendant, for some reason, opted for a bench trial (!!!) and the court acquitted her of murder. Nevertheless, the court still found the defendant to be guilty of manslaughter in the first degree for which she was sentenced to 20 years in prison with 5 years of post-release supervision.

The defendant appealed.

The two arguments on appeal are:
1. The court erred in denying the defendant’s motion to suppress her statements; and 2. The sentence is unduly harsh and excessive.

The second argument can be denied out of hand as far as I’m concerned. You admit to killing a toddler? I’m thinking 20 years in prison is getting off a bit light.

However, it’s the first argument that the Third Department analyzes at length. The key to disposing of the first argument is this: “the right to counsel indelibly attaches when an uncharged individual, while in custody, has requested a lawyer in that matter.” So, it’s a two-pronged analysis. Was the defendant in police custody when she made the inculpatory statements? And, if so, did the defendant request counsel? No and no.

The defendant was requested by the police to come down to police headquarters and have a conversation with them. And the defendant granted their request. That was her first mistake. If the police ever want to talk with me, they can talk to The Hand.

Next, even after having been given a Miranda warning, the defendant waived her rights prior to being questioned. Mistake number two. Always exercise your right to remain silent.

Next, while free to leave the police headquarters at any time, the defendant nonetheless stayed and continued to speak with the police officers. She went so far as to leave the station with her mother and go to lunch, only to come back for more conversation! And even then, the police were careful to advise the defendant of her Miranda rights prior to questioning the defendant again. Once was not enough, she had to return and talk some more!

At some point during the second conversation, the defendant admitted to poisoning the toddler. Unbelievable.

Oh, but it gets better. The defendant claimed that she requested an attorney during this questioning. However, what the defendant actually said was “I don’t want you to be mad at me, but I’m thinking about calling a lawyer.” Sorry. Not good enough. There needs to be an unequivocal assertion of one’s right to counsel, and this just does not cut it. Thinking about calling a lawyer is not the same as DEMANDING a lawyer.

Miranda warnings are read for a very good reason. Never waive them. Never ignore them. The best advice I can give on the matter is to keep your mouth shut – except for when you are demanding to speak with an attorney. And who gives a rat’s ass if the cops are mad at you!?