By: Dave Ross ’23
I would like to begin this blog post, discussing some of my work for the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, by expressing my sincerest gratitude to Francis and Cindy Letro for their generous financial contribution to the University at Buffalo School of Law. Their donation made it possible for me to be awarded a 2022 School of Law Public Interest Fellowship in service to the Nassau County, New York community this summer. Interning for young and energetic Assistant District Attorneys over the preceding eight weeks has emboldened me to fight passionately for justice for crime victims and their families. Without this Fellowship, I would not be dead-set on public interest legal work following my upcoming graduation from UB Law as I am today after wrapping up my prosecutorial experience this summer. Once more, I tremendously appreciate Francis and Cindy Letro’s generous donation that made accepting my summer internship offer possible.
My proudest accomplishment during my summer internship with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office was drafting a motion in opposition to a defendant’s motion to suppress on behalf of a Senior Assistant District Attorney for her then upcoming Huntley hearing. Huntley hearings are a type of evidentiary suppression hearing that originated in New York State after the 1965 landmark Court of Appeals case People v. Huntley, 15 N.Y.2d 72 (1965). Huntley held that a criminal trial judge in New York State must find voluntariness beyond a reasonable doubt before a defendant’s confession can be submitted to the trial jury. Id. at 78. The burden of proof, as with criminal prosecution in general, is on the People. See id. A prosecutor, within a reasonable time before trial, must notify the defense as to whether any alleged confession will be offered in evidence at the trial. Id. The defense may then initiate a Huntley hearing if it intends to attack the alleged confession as involuntary by notifying the prosecutor of its desire to do so. See id. My Senior ADA gladly notified me during my final week of the internship that she succeeded on the merits because of my hard work!
A Huntley hearing can be crucial to a defendant’s case in ensuring that law enforcement properly warned him of his constitutional rights prior to subjecting him to any custodial interrogation, in accordance with Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). The United States Supreme Court held any statement made by a police officer which he knows, or reasonably should know, is likely to elicit an incriminating response from an accused constitutes “interrogation” within the meaning of Miranda. See Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 301 (1980).
The ruling of the Second Department case People v. Kaye, 25 N.Y.2d 139 (1969), proved highly on-point for the purposes of my motion in clarifying an example of when a police officer’s statement to an accused does not constitute “interrogation.” An accused’s statement is “spontaneous” or “volunteered” when the police address a statement to the accused, such as informing him he is under arrest, to which the accused replies. Id. Although I cannot disclose much of the particulars of my fact pattern, I can say that the defendant made as many as three or four incriminating statements to the police officers involved between all the instances when they arrested him and explained to him why he was under arrest. I was able to use this case to then construct my argument successfully around the fact that all the defendant’s statements were “spontaneous,” and therefore voluntarily addressed to the police beyond a reasonable doubt.
Despite the appearance of giving an accused an advantage over the prosecution by requiring the latter to prove the voluntariness of the former’s alleged confession beyond a reasonable doubt, Huntley hearings can greatly bolster the prosecution if the People satisfy its burden of proof. If an accused’s alleged confession is proven to have been voluntarily given beyond a reasonable doubt, the prosecution would simply need some additional corroborating evidence to back up its veracity. See Criminal Procedure Law § 60.50 (“A person may not be convicted of an offense solely upon evidence of a confession or admission made by him without additional proof that the offense charged has been committed”). In assisting my Senior ADA succeed on the merits at her Huntley hearing, she is now significantly closer to either negotiating a plea bargain or the jury returning a guilty verdict. Only time will tell.
Name: Dave Ross
Name of Fellowship: School of Law Public Interest Fellowship
Placement: Nassau County District Attorney’s Office
Location: Long Island, NY
One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “Interning for young and energetic Assistant District Attorneys over the preceding eight weeks has emboldened me to fight passionately for justice for crime victims and their families.”