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United States v. Mancusi

decided: June 11, 1971.


Waterman, Smith and Kaufman, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kaufman

IRVING R. KAUFMAN, Circuit Judge:

The state legal proceedings that have resulted in this federal habeas corpus action had their genesis on a Sunday morning, June 6, 1965, in Niagara Falls, New York. At about 9:05 A.M., Cronan, the petitioner and appellant here, shot his wife in the chest at close range with a shotgun, killing her instantly. Moments later, using the same gun, Cronan severely wounded himself in the left thigh, either accidentally or by design.

A jury convicted Cronan of second degree murder in December 1965, and the following month he was sentenced to a term of twenty-five years to life imprisonment. He now challenges the validity of his conviction on a single ground. Included in the evidence admitted against Cronan at his trial were two verbal confessions which Cronan gave in response to questions of investigating authorities, one immediately following the shootings and the other the morning of the next day, after Cronan had been hospitalized for treatment of his leg injury. Cronan contends that the two confessions were involuntary as a matter of federal constitutional law, contrary to the findings entered by the state trial court after a Huntley hearing, People v. Huntley, 15 N.Y.2d 72, 255 N.Y.S.2d 838, 204 N.E.2d 179 (1965), and by the district court below. Alternatively, petitioner contends that the state proceeding were inadequate to resolve the question of voluntariness and must be supplemented by a federal hearing. On July 24, 1970, Judge Burke denied the petition without a hearing. We affirm.


We agree with the constitutional standard the petitioner relies upon in seeking to demonstrate that his confessions were involuntary. It is not decisive that Cronan had not established that he was promised anything or that he was in any way harassed, threatened, or otherwise physically or psychologically coerced or intimidated by his interrogators before he confessed. Cronan asserts his confessions may nonetheless be other than the product of his "rational intellect" and "free will" and hence inadmissible. Blackburn v. Alabama, 361 U.S. 199, 208, 80 S. Ct. 274, 4 L. Ed. 2d 242 (1960); Lynumn v. Illinois, 372 U.S. 528, 534, 83 S. Ct. 917, 9 L. Ed. 2d 922 (1963); Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 307, 83 S. Ct. 745, 9 L. Ed. 2d 770 (1963); Culombe v. Connecticut, 367 U.S. 568, 81 S. Ct. 1860, 6 L. Ed. 2d 1037 (1961). In urging that his confessions were in fact involuntary despite the absence of overreaching by his questioners, Cronan relies primarily on the possible psychological impact of his leg injury and the possible side effects of medicine administered to him during the night and morning prior to the second confession.

We do not dispute the proposition that a person's will may be sufficiently impaired because of his physical condition so as to render any statement he may make to police or other authorities "involuntary" or other than the product of a free will and rational intelligence, despite the scrupulous conduct of the questioners. We also recognize as relevant to the voluntariness of Cronan's pre-Miranda*fn1 statements, the absence of any indication that Cronan was informed of his rights to remain silent and to have a competent lawyer assist him, or warned that his statements might be used against him in a criminal prosecution. Johnson v. New Jersey, 384 U.S. 719, 730, 86 S. Ct. 1772, 16 L. Ed. 2d 882 (1966); Haynes v. Washington, 373 U.S. 503, 510-511, 83 S. Ct. 1336, 10 L. Ed. 2d 513 (1963). However, "no single litmus-paper test for constitutionally impermissible interrogation has been evolved," Culombe v. Connecticut, supra, 367 U.S. at 601, 81 S. Ct. at 1878. We disagree with petitioner that the undisputed facts disclosed by this record -- or the facts as found by the state trial and federal district courts, which are supported by the record -- establish that Cronan's confessions were involuntary.

Prior Proceedings

The Huntley hearing was conducted on December 2, 1965, before Judge John V. Hogan of the Niagara County Court, who also presided at Cronan's trial. Four witnesses testified for the state and none for the defense. At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Hogan ruled orally that Cronan's statements were "voluntarily given without any coercion, no promises of immunity, and no duress." Further testimony bearing on the voluntary nature of Cronan's statements was admitted at Cronan's trial.*fn2

On direct appeal from Cronan's conviction, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court found that Judge Hogan had failed to make a determination, required by People v. Huntley, supra, that Cronan's admissions were voluntary beyond a reasonable doubt. The case was remanded to the County Court for "specific findings of fact and conclusions of law" to be made without a rehearing "upon the testimony presented at the preliminary hearing." People v. Cronan, 28 A.D.2d 815, 281 N.Y.S.2d 537 (4th Dept.1967). In accordance with this direction, in 1968 Judge Hogan filed detailed findings as to each of the confessions and concluded that their voluntariness had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.*fn3 Judge Burke's findings of fact in the district court below were based on the transcripts of the trial and Huntley hearing, the same evidence that was before Judge Hogan in 1968. The two sets of findings correspond in every respect material to this appeal.

The June 6 Confession

The first witness to arrive at the scene of the killing was Mrs. Cronan's mother, Mrs. Pagano, who had been speaking with her daughter by telephone when the shooting occurred. There then arrived in rapid succession, two neighbors attracted by the shots, and several policemen. Among the policemen was Detective Wilfred V. Garrow, who took charge of the investigation. One of Garrow's first acts was to kneel beside Cronan, who lay wounded beside his dead wife, and, according to Garrow's undisputed testimony:

"I asked him [Cronan] 'Did you shoot yourself and your wife?' and he said, 'Yes.' I immediately called the officers which were in the kitchen and said 'I would like to have you witness his statement.' I went back to Mr. Cronan, bent down and said 'Mr. Cronan, you are wounded quite seriously and you may die from your wounds.'"

"His reply was 'Yes.' Then I said, 'Did you shoot your wife?' and he said, 'Yes.' And in answer to why he shot his wife he told me because she ...

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