Spano v. New York

Spano v. New York Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
360 U.S. 415 (1959)

ISSUE: Was a confession voluntarily obtained if D repeatedly asked to speak with his attorney but wasn't allowed and D refused to speak until his friend/new cop convinced him to talk?
  • D, an Italian-born immigrant, got in a fight with V when V stole D's money at a bar
  • D went home, got a gun, and then went to a candy store and shot V to death
  • D surrendered himself to authorities after consulting with an attorney who told him not to say anything
  • D was questioned by several people and steadfastly refused to answer
  • D was then moved to another police station for further question, and D's friend/new cop was brought into play on D's sympathies by making up a story that D's phone call to him had got him in trouble
  • After 4 attempts by the friend, D made a question-and-answer confession
  • Indicted by grand jury on 1st degree murder
  • Convicted and sentenced to death
  • Balancing of interests: State's interest in prompt and efficient law enforcement with interest in preventing the rights of its individual members from being abridged by unconstitutional methods of law enforcement
    • Police must obey the law while enforcing the law
  • Totality of the situation proves involuntariness: D was overborne by official pressure, fatigue, and sympathy
    • Not native born
    • Junior high education
    • Off-hours interrogation
    • Mounting fatigue
    • 4 attempts by his "friend" to force a confession
  • As this was a capital case, Powell v. Alabamaguarantees him a right to be represented by counsel
  • Denying a person the right to counsel before trial may be more damaging than denying his right to counsel during trial
  • What use is D's right to counsel if he can be questioned in the absence of counsel?
CONCURRENCE: Absence of counsel when this confession was elicited was alone enough to render it inadmissible under the 4th Amdt.
  • Spano is part of the due-process-violation line of cases like Ashcraft where a "confession" will be invalidated if it was obtained through either physical coercion or through an "inherently coercive" situation. Such confessions violate the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and are not tolerated by the Supreme Court (post-9/11, this position may be eroding).
  • Unlike the bright-line Miranda requirements, invalidating a confession based on an alleged violation of due process is fact-specific inquiry and can only be achieved through comparing and contrasting with cases like Ashcraft and Spano.
  • Spano is a pre-Miranda decision, and that is important to keep in mind when reading Miranda and its line of cases in order to understand why Miranda was decided the way it was.


Leave a Reply