Thursday, April 21, 2016

Police Officer Acted as Mere "Listening Post" in Hospital

Dellavecchia v. Secretary, PA DOC, No. 15-1833, decides a 6th Amendment right to counsel issue, which may come up in non-habeas contexts.  Judge Greenberg writes for a unanimous panel (joined by Jordan and Scirica). From the opinion:
On this appeal from an order denying a petition for a writ of habeas corpus we consider the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in an unusual set of circumstances. In September 2012, a state-court jury convicted appellant, James Dellavecchia, of first-degree murder, criminal attempt (homicide), three counts of recklessly endangering another person, and weapons-related offenses. At the trial, Lieutenant Scott Willoughby of the Ridley Township, Pennsylvania, Police Department, the lead officer investigating the crimes, gave testimony that is at the center of this opinion. In particular, Willoughby testified that Dellavecchia made an incriminating statement immediately following a bedside arraignment conducted while he was hospitalized for a self-inflicted head injury on the day following his arrest for the commission of the offenses.

It is undisputed that when Dellavecchia made his statement without counsel present and without having been given Miranda warnings, he had not waived the right to counsel. Thus, as the case law we discuss below demonstrates, the dispute concerns whether Willoughby deliberately elicited Dellavecchia’s statement or was a mere “listening post” when Dellavecchia, spontaneously and without prompting, volunteered incriminating information.

We conclude that Willoughby did not deliberately elicit Dellavecchia’s statement and consequently did not violate Dellavecchia’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. We also conclude that the evidence at the trial, even disregarding Dellavecchia’s statement, overwhelmingly supported his convictions and thus, even if his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated when he gave the statement, the ensuing error when Willoughby recounted the statement at trial was harmless. Therefore, we will affirm the District Court order denying Dellavecchia’s petition for habeas corpus.
This is what Det. Willoughby testified happened:
[A]s soon as District Justice Gallagher arraigned the Defendant he turned and started to walk out of the room. Mr. Dellavecchia asked me who are you. I introduced myself as Lieutenant Scott Willoughby from the Ridley Township Police Department. I told him I was in charge of the investigation, at which time he asked me to sit. I sat. He put out his hand. I shook his hand. And he stated this. I really fucked up. He asked me to sit down. And he says Scotty, I want to tell you what happened. I sat in the chair and Mr. Dellavecchia began to talk freely and openly.
Willoughby said he'd not planned to interrogate defendant and so forgot to bring his Miranda form. He said he did tell Dellavecchia that anything he said could be used against him. He claimed he sat and listened, taking notes, while Dellavecchia gave an uninterruped narrative. He knew that Dellavecchia's son had retained counsel for him.
Dellavecchia testified at trial that Robins was the aggressor in an encounter in which he acted in self defense. His statement to the police did not include the self-defense aspects.

Greenberg, applying Massiah v. United States, Brewer v. Williams, US v. Henry, and Kuhlmann v. Wilson, asks whether Willoughby "deliberately elicited" Dellavecchia's statement in contravention of his right to counsel, which had attached after he was arraigned in the hospital. Willoughby, he finds, did nothing but listen to Dellavecchia's "spontaneous and unsolicited" statement. In contrast to Brewer, the state courts found that he did not go to the hospital intending to question the defendant. Without employing a specific AEDPA presumption of correctness analysis, Greenberg indicates that the federal court has no basis to reject that finding. Furthermore, Willoughby told Dellavechhia that anything he said could be used against him. Greenberg sees this as an indication that W. did not elicit D's statement but in fact encouraged him to keep silent.

Because of the lower court's "unassailable" findings on the motion to suppress, the Superior Court's ruling rejecting the claim was not an unreasonable application of the Massiah line of cases. He says in a footnote that even if the case was in a direct review posture the court would reach the same result. And he indicates that the admission of the statement was harmless error.

In a footnote, Greenberg does stress that police can only use a represented defendant's statement only if there is no elicitation.

Thank you to Claudia Van Wyk, EDPA, for this summary.

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