A Note on Huntley


Criminal Jury Instructions, New York State Office of Court Administration

New York State Bar Association's Legal Handbook for Journalists

A judge may rule that the statement was both voluntary and properly obtained under Miranda. In that case, the statement or confession may be used by the prosecutor at trial, whether or not the defendant testifies. That is the ruling Judge Broderick issued in Annette Montstream's case. If Annette had gone to trial and if her signed confession was introduced, Annette could have argued to the jury at her trial that her confession was defective (either involuntary or improperly obtained) -- even though the judge had already ruled that her confession was valid.

A judge may rule that a confession was voluntary, but that it was improperly obtained, e.g. after the defendant requested an attorney. In that case, the judge may rule that the prosecution cannot introduce the confession during its presentation of witnesses to the jury ("case in chief" in legal terms). However, since the statement was voluntary, the prosecution can use the confession if the defendant testifies and contradicts the confession. In other words, the confession can be used to show inconsistency.

Needless to say, few defendants will testify under those circumstances. But since the ruling was made before the trial, the jurors will not know that there is a suppressed "confession." This was Michael Northrup's situation. Judge Hannigan suppressed any statements Michael made after he requested an attorney the night he was questioned.

Criminal trials are governed by a series of interconnected rules based upon jurisdictions of various courts. United States Supreme Court decisions affect all criminal proceedings in the United States. But each state may establish how to apply the national court cases and may add their own application of national precedents based on state laws and other state court decisions. One of the most common pre-trial hearings in New York State is a Huntley Hearing. Huntley (255 NY2d 838) is New York State's application of a United States Supreme Court case Jackson v. Denno (378 US 368).

Huntley provides that a defendant may challenge the voluntary and lawful nature of any statement made to police if the prosecution intends to use the statement at trial. If the prosecution intends to use a defendant's statement, the prosecution must inform the defense of its intention. The defendant has the right to a Huntley hearing in front of the judge to determine whether the statement can be used at the trial. Factors considered by the judge will include whether the defendant was in custody -- and, if in custody, whether the defendant waived his/her Miranda rights -- whether the police used unfair coercion or made promises to the defendant and whether the defendant gave the statement of his own free will. Huntley requires that

The judge must find voluntariness beyond a reasonable doubt before the confession can be submitted to the trial jury (Huntley, 843).