The Court of Appeals, reversing the appellate division (and defendant’s manslaughter conviction), determined defense counsel should have been allowed to question prospective jurors in voir dire about their ability to disregard an involuntary statement attributed to the defendant. At voir dire, the prosecution indicates it was not sure defendant’s statements would be introduced. However, defendant’s inculpatory statements were presented in the People’s direct case, and those statements tended to corroborate eyewitness testimony:
Under the circumstances of this case, the trial court abused its discretion when it entirely precluded questioning on the issue of involuntary confessions and refused to make its own inquiry of the potential jurors on the issue. Defense counsel’s request to question prospective jurors about their ability to follow the law and disregard an involuntary confession went to the heart of determining whether those jurors could be impartial and afford defendant a fair trial. Indeed, defendant, facing the most serious charge of murder, premised his defense at trial on the involuntariness of his inculpatory statements, which effectively corroborated the testimony of the two eyewitnesses whose credibility was strenuously assailed by the defense.
Furthermore, the fact that the prosecution had not determined, by the time of jury selection, whether it would use defendant’s inculpatory statements at trial should not have resulted in precluding any questioning on the issue altogether, by either the court or defense counsel … . Defense counsel here never sought to place the contents of defendant’s statements before the jury. Rather, he sought only to question prospective jurors on their ability to follow and apply the law regarding the prohibited use of an involuntary statement. Moreover, the trial court had other ways to address any potential speculation and prejudice to the prosecution while still safeguarding defendant’s right to adequately voir dire the jury. For instance, the court could have instructed the prospective jurors that it did not yet know whether there were any statements that would come in as evidence, but if there were, it was the law that such statements must be disregarded if the jury found them to be involuntary. People v Miller, 2016 NY Slip Op 08587, CtApp 12-22-16
CRIMINAL LAW (QUESTIONS WHETHER PROSPECTIVE JURORS COULD DISREGARD AN INVOLUNTARY CONFESSION SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALLOWED, CONVICTION REVERSED)/JURORS (CRIMINAL LAW, QUESTIONS WHETHER PROSPECTIVE JURORS COULD DISREGARD AN INVOLUNTARY CONFESSION SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALLOWED, CONVICTION REVERSED)/VOIR DIRE (CRIMINAL LAW, QUESTIONS WHETHER PROSPECTIVE JURORS COULD DISREGARD AN INVOLUNTARY CONFESSION SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALLOWED, CONVICTION REVERSED)/CONFESSIONS (QUESTIONS WHETHER PROSPECTIVE JURORS COULD DISREGARD AN INVOLUNTARY CONFESSION SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALLOWED, CONVICTION REVERSED)