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Law School Case Brief

Spano v. New York - 360 U.S. 315, 79 S. Ct. 1202 (1959)


The abhorrence of society to the use of involuntary confessions does not turn alone on their inherent untrustworthiness. It also turns on the deep-rooted feeling that the police must obey the law while enforcing the law; that in the end life and liberty can be as much endangered from illegal methods used to convict those thought to be criminals as from the actual criminals themselves.


After petitioner, Vincent Joseph Spano, a foreign-born man of 25 with a junior-high-school education and no previous criminal record, had been indicted for first-degree murder, he retained counsel and surrendered to police. He was then subjected to persistent and continuous questioning by an assistant prosecutor and numerous police officers for virtually eight hours. Ultimately, Spano confessed, after he had repeatedly requested, and had been denied, an opportunity to consult his counsel. At his trial in a New York state court, his confession was admitted in evidence over his objection, and he was convicted and sentenced to death. 


Was the trial court's admission of Spano's involuntary confession inconsistent with the Fourteenth Amendment under traditional principles?




The Supreme Court of the United States found that Spano's involuntary confession had been wrongly admitted into evidence over appropriate objection at trial. The confession was inconsistent with U.S. Const. amend. XIV under traditional principles. Spano was subjected to questioning by several men for nearly eight hours. The questioning was not conducted during normal business hours, but began in early evening, continued into the night, and did not bear fruition until morning. The questioners persisted in the face of Spano's repeated refusals to answer on the advice of his attorney. The Court found another factor that deserved mentioning was the use of Spano's "childhood friend," now a police officer, to play upon his sympathy. The Court concluded that Spano's will was overcome by official pressure, fatigue, and sympathy falsely aroused in a post-indictment setting. The police were only concerned in securing a statement from Spano on which they could convict him.

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