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NOVA v. BARTLETT

September 9, 1999

RICARDO NOVA, PETITIONER,
v.
GEORGE BARTLETT, SUPERINTENDENT AT ELMIRA CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Motley, District Judge.

OPINION

Petitioner seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on the grounds that his confession was obtained in an unconstitutional manner. Petitioner asserts that he was not given the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), prior to being subjected to a custodial interrogation. Petitioner further claims that his later, fully warned confessions should also have been suppressed because they were tainted by the prior, illegally obtained statement. For the reasons stated herein, petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus is denied.

BACKGROUND

A. Facts

On Sunday, September 2, 1990, Brian Watkins, his mother, father, brother, and sister-in-law were standing on a subway platform at 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue. The Watkins family, residents of Utah, was visiting New York City for the U.S. Tennis Open Tournament. At approximately 10:15 p.m., petitioner and a large group of teenagers from Queens arrived at the 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue subway station. The group was heading for Roseland, a dance club in midtown Manhattan. However, some of petitioner's friends did not have enough money to pay the entrance fee into Roseland.

At this point, petitioner and six of his friends decided to commit a robbery, with the Watkins family as their target. Petitioner and his accomplices reentered the subway station and surrounded the Watkins family. During the robbery, the father was cut with a razor and robbed of his money, the mother was knocked to the ground and beaten, and Brian Watkins was fatally stabbed in the chest. He died from his injuries en route to St. Vincent's Hospital, where he was taken immediately following the robbery. As the robbers fled the subway, petitioner was handed $200 of the robbery proceeds. The group then went directly to Roseland where petitioner purchased $120 worth of tickets with the money obtained in the robbery.

At approximately 4:00 a.m., five to six police officers returned to Roseland and stopped Joseph Santana, a person whom Anderson had described as being part of the crowd heading for Roseland. Santana pointed out a group of individuals matching the descriptions given by Anderson. The police approached the group in a fanned-out position to stop them from running away. The police directed the group to move up against a wall to separate them from the crowd of exiting Roseland patrons. Detective Rosario then patted down petitioner's outer pocket and recovered a silver colored knife with metal knuckles, which petitioner told police belonged to a friend. In this group were two other accomplices that Anderson had described to police. The police told the three youths that they were going to the police station to give their statements and would be allowed to leave afterwards. The rest of the people in petitioner's group were allowed to leave. The police indicated that the three youths were considered possible witnesses to the subway robbery, although the police really considered them to be suspects at this time. Petitioner, along with the two accomplices, accompanied police to the Midtown North Precinct, unhandcuffed.

At the Midtown North Precinct, petitioner made numerous incriminating statements, including a videotaped statement describing his involvement in the robbery. Petitioner was also positively identified by two of the victims in line-ups conducted on September 3, 1990.

B. Prior Proceedings

Prior to trial, petitioner moved to suppress the inculpatory statements he made at the precinct. Justice Torres of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, held a hearing on petitioner's motion and made the following findings of fact. Upon petitioner's arrival at the Midtown North Precinct at approximately 4:45 a.m. on September 3, 1990, petitioner was taken to a coffee room on the third floor. Detective Rosario and Sergeant Borman began questioning petitioner some time before 6:00 a.m. Neither detective issued petitioner Miranda warnings. For the next hour and a half, petitioner recounted his activities during the previous night. His story did not match what others had told the detectives, and at one point, a discrepancy arose over the amount of money petitioner was carrying. At this point, petitioner said, "All right, I'll tell you the truth. I ain't going to fool around with you. I'll tell you the honest truth." Tr. at 673, 772.*fn1

Justice Torres found that all of petitioner's statements made at the police station were admissible at trial. Justice Torres held petitioner's initial statements made during the first hour and a half were admissible since petitioner was not in a custodial setting. Petitioner's oral, written, and videotaped statements made thereafter were also held to be admissible since petitioner was advised of his Miranda rights, which he knowingly and voluntarily waived. Justice Torres also found that petitioner's statements made while handcuffed to the railing were admissible because they were not a product of interrogation.

On December 10, 1991, following a seven-week jury trial, petitioner was convicted of one count of Felony Murder in the Second Degree, under New York Penal Law Section 125.24(3), for the killing of Brian Watkins, and two counts each of Robbery in the First and Second Degrees, under New York Penal Law Sections 160.15(3), 160.10(1) and 160(2)(a), for the robbery of the Watkins family. Thereafter, petitioner was sentenced to concurrent terms of twenty-five years to life imprisonment for murder, eight and one-third to twenty-five years for first-degree robbery, and five to fifteen years for second-degree robbery.

On January 3, 1992, after the jury verdict but prior to sentencing, petitioner brought a motion pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure Law Section 440.10 to set aside the verdict on the grounds that the trial court issued legal instructions to the jury in the absence of petitioner's counsel. Justice Torres summarily denied the motion on May 18, 1992, but granted leave to appeal and consolidated the matter with petitioner's direct appeal to the Appellate Division, First Department. By Decision and Order dated November 30, 1993, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's judgment of conviction. See People v. Nova, 198 A.D.2d 193, 603 N.Y.S.2d 863 (1st ...


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