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Spano v. New York


A foreign-born man, age 25, was a suspect in a killing. He had no previous criminal history or experience with official interrogation. He had only six months of high school education and a history of emotional instability. The defendant was questioned by officials for nearly eight straight hours, long into the night, before he confessed. The defendant repeatedly refused to answer questions and even requested his attorney. During the interrogation, the officers used a “childhood friend” of the defendant who had become a police officer. This officer told the suspect that the situation had gotten the officer in trouble and that his job was in jeopardy. He played up the terrible effect this would have on the officer’s family. At almost sunrise, the government obtained the final pieces of the defendant’s confession.


Whether the suspect’s statement was voluntarily given?


No. The suspect’s will was overborne by official pressure, fatigue, and sympathy from deception, in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.


In this pre-Miranda case, the Court’s focus was on the voluntariness of the statements made by the suspect. Given the tactics used by the officers (inducing false sympathy, lengthy interrogation), and the vulnerability of their somewhat unstable suspect, the Court determined that the statement was not voluntary and should not have been admitted at trial. The Court looked at all the facts taken together in reaching its holding that the statement violated Due Process guarantees.


360 U.S. 315, 79 S. Ct. 1202 (1959)

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