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PEOPLE STATE NEW YORK v. MELVIN MORALES (05/15/68)

COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK 1968.NY.41633 <http://www.versuslaw.com>; 238 N.E.2d 307; 22 N.Y.2d 55 decided: May 15, 1968. THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, RESPONDENT,v.MELVIN MORALES, APPELLANT People v. Morales, 27 A.D.2d 904, affirmed. Counsel Richard T. Farrell for appellant. Isidore Dollinger, District Attorney (Daniel J. Sullivan of counsel), for respondent. Jasen, J. Judges Burke, Scileppi, Bergan, Keating and Breitel concur; Chief Judge Fuld concurs in result but solely on the ground that the record established that defendant waived his constitutional rights and acquiesced in his being interrogated by the police at the police station. Author: Jasen


People v. Morales, Jasen, J. Judges Burke, Scileppi, Bergan, Keating and Breitel concur; Chief Judge Fuld concurs in result but solely on the ground that the record established that defendant waived his constitutional rights and acquiesced in his being interrogated by the police at the police station.

Author: Jasen

 This appeal squarely presents the issue of the authority of law enforcement officials to temporarily detain and question suspects upon less than probable cause for charges of crime after advising them of their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights.

At about 3:00 a.m. on October 4, 1964, Addie Brown was brutally stabbed 31 times while in the elevator of the apartment building in which she lived in New York City. Two men, attracted by her screams, heard running footsteps and the slamming or closing of a door. Mrs. Brown was unable to respond to questioning and died at 3:30 a.m.

The police questioned a large number of persons and conducted an investigation which established that no one witnessed the murder or observed the killer leave the scene of the crime. They were unable to discover any direct evidence concerning the identity of the killer. During the course of this investigation, the police conducted a "canvass" of the apartment building during which they learned that defendant had been present in the building at the time of the crime. They also learned that defendant, a known narcotics addict, who constantly frequented the apartment house, had not been seen since the killing.*fn1 The police made several fruitless attempts to locate defendant through his mother who lived in the same apartment building. They interpreted Mrs. Morales' statements to them to mean that she did not know where defendant was. Finally, on the tenth day of defendant's continued "absence" from the area of the crime, October 13, Detectives Carroll and Daum staked out Mrs. Morales' beauty parlor.

Defendant appeared at his mother's business establishment on October 13 because he knew the police were attempting to locate him through his mother for questioning, and was apprehended by detectives upon his arrival at 8:00 p.m. He was told, "We [were] looking for you" and placed in Detective Daum's car. He was not informed that he was under arrest. In response to defendant's question concerning the reason for placing him in the car, Detective Carroll replied, "Well don't worry about it, I will ask you a few questions, that's all." Mrs. Morales was not allowed to speak to her son, nor did he ask to speak to her. However, the apprehending detectives informed her that defendant would be released in an hour or so after questioning. Defendant was then driven to the 42nd Precinct Station in the Bronx, where he was questioned.

The record does not indicate that physical force was used in taking defendant to the 42nd Precinct. In fact, defendant testified that he was so loosely guarded when taken from the car to the station that he could have safely escaped but did not because he had no reason to do so. However, he was not free to leave at the time he was apprehended and would have been restrained had he attempted to flee.

Upon arrival at the 42nd Precinct at about 8:30 p.m. and prior to being questioned, defendant was informed of the subject matter of the investigation, his right to remain silent, his right to have a lawyer at any time, and advised that any answers he gave could be used against him. Shortly thereafter, defendant confessed that he killed Addie Brown when she resisted his attempts to rob her for money to buy narcotics. The substance of this confession was reduced to writing and signed by defendant at 9:05 p.m.*fn2

Defendant was convicted after a jury trial of felony murder in Supreme Court, Bronx County, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Appellate Division unanimously affirmed, without opinion.

On this appeal defendant contends that his confessions should have been suppressed because they were evidence obtained as a result of an unreasonable seizure proscribed by the Fourth Amendment. Specifically, he argues that these statements were illegally taken because they were obtained during a period of detention which was unlawful because it had not been predicated upon probable cause.

It may be conceded that the apprehending detectives did not have probable cause to justify an arrest of defendant at the time they took him into custody. Moreover, the record does not support a finding that defendant consented to his detention and questioning. However, it does not follow that defendant was unreasonably detained within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Considering the totality of the circumstances of this case, we conclude that defendant's temporary detention for questioning represented a reasonable exercise of the police power.

Initially, it must be noted that defendant was not formally arrested on a charge of crime within the meaning of our arrest statute, section 167 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. (United States v. Bonanno, 180 F. Supp. 71, 77 [S. D. N. Y., 1960], revd. on other grounds sub nom. United States v. Bufalino, 285 F. 2d 408 [2d Cir., 1960]; United States v. Thomas, 250 F. Supp. 771 [S. D. N. Y., 1966]; People v. Hoffman, 24 A.D.2d 497; United States ex rel. Spero v. McKendrick, 266 F. Supp. 718 [S. D. N. Y., 1967].) Section 167 defined arrest at the time of defendant's apprehension as "the taking of a person into custody * * * for a crime." It is beyond dispute that the apprehending detectives only intended to temporarily detain defendant for an hour or less for questioning at the time they took him into custody.

Likewise, defendant cannot reasonably be inferred to have considered his temporary detention for questioning as an arrest. Defendant was a 30-year-old man who had been involved with the law on numerous occasions in connection with his arrests for policy and narcotics violations. He supported himself by "hustling" (shoplifting) when he was not working. He was educated in New York City, graduated from junior high school and spent several years in trade school. In other words, defendant was not innocent in the ways of the world, nor inexperienced in the workings of the law, at the time of his detention for questioning. In fact, defendant has not contended that he was arrested but, rather, has chosen to rely upon the stronger argument that he was unreasonably detained without probable cause.

Concluding then that defendant was technically not arrested within the meaning of our arrest statute, the question narrows to whether the police unreasonably seized defendant within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment by taking him to the 42nd Precinct Station for questioning. The Fourth Amendment bars "unreasonable" seizures of the person and states that warrants may issue only upon probable cause. Although the Fourth Amendment may be fairly construed as encompassing the "seizure" of an individual, every detention of an individual does not constitute a constitutionally proscribed "unreasonable seizure". (United States v. Middleton, 344 F. 2d 78 [2d Cir., 1965]; United States v. Glover, 372 F. 2d 43, 46, n. 4 [2d Cir., 1967]; United States v. Bonanno, supra ; United States v. Thomas, supra ; United States ex rel. Spero v. McKendrick, supra ; People v. Nieto, 247 Cal. App. 2d 364, cert. den. 387 U.S. 911; State v. Dilley, 49 N. J. 460; People v. Mickelson, 59 Cal. 2d 448; State v. Hatfield, 112 W. Va. 424.)

This court recognized the common-law authority of law enforcement officials to detain persons for investigation as a reasonable and necessary exercise of the police power for the prevention of crime and the preservation of public order in People v. Rivera (14 N.Y.2d 441, cert. den. 379 U.S. 978 [1965]). Indeed, we recently upheld the constitutionality of section 180-a of the Code of Criminal Procedure, popularly known as the "Stop and Frisk" law, in People v. Peters (18 N.Y.2d 238, probable jurisdiction noted 386 U.S. 980) and People v. Sibron (18 N.Y.2d 603, probable jurisdiction noted 386 U.S. 954). Of course, this statute is limited to the stopping, questioning and frisking of persons in public places upon reasonable suspicion. We have also held that probable cause can be obtained during ...


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