On December 15, 1978, an attorney was convicted of criminal injection of a narcotic drug upon a jury. He appealed for he was subsequently indicted for manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and criminal injection of a narcotic drug. Following a jury trial he was acquitted of the homicide charges but was convicted of criminal injection.
Based on records, on the morning of March 13, 1976 the body of the deceased, an 18-year-old woman, was discovered in a bedroom of her family’s home. The medical examiner determined that the cause of death was “acute narcotism”, several months later, the defendant was arrested. The defendant’s conviction rests primarily on his own admissions made to civilian witnesses. One such witness testified that in March, 1976 he was present in an apartment with the defendant and others. The defendant was upset and said that he had been with a girl who had died. He explained that he had given her an inter-muscular shot “in the behind” and she had passed out. He had left without rendering medical assistance because he feared that his legal career would be jeopardized by his involvement in the episode. In recounting these events the defendant stated the girl’s name.
A second witness, testified that the defendant appeared anxious and upset and revealed that he had been in a house with a young woman and had injected a small amount of heroin into her buttocks. The defendant said that he had panicked and left when the woman had lost consciousness.
Did the prosecution produce independent evidence sufficient to corroborate the defendant’s confession?
The Criminal Procedure Law provides that a criminal conviction may not rest solely upon a defendant’s confession or admission without additional proof that the offense charged has been committed.
The justification requirement for confessions is aimed at preventing the danger that a crime may be confessed when no such crime has been committed. Since it is a rare instance that an individual will confess to a crime never committed, the evidence needed to support a confession is minimal. Indeed, it need not connect, or even tend to connect, the defendant with the commission of the crime. Instead, the statute is satisfied by the production of some proof, of whatever weight, that a crime was committed by someone. The defendant’s presence at the scene, proof of motive, evidence of flight and other conduct indicating a consciousness of guilt may be held to constitute the essential additional proof. According to sources, the People produced evidence, independent of the confession, sufficient to satisfy this standard.
A witness testified that on at least two occasions he had seen the defendant inject himself with heroin using his own hypodermic needle. He carried the needle and other drug implements in his attache case. The deceased’s brother, testified that, about seven days before the incident, the defendant had offered him narcotics, and there was some suggestion in his testimony that the drug was to be administered by injection.
The victim’s brother testified further that, on the night in question he knocked on his sister’s bedroom door but no one answered and the door was locked. Minutes later he returned and again knocked on the door. The defendant opened it and he saw his sister lying on the bed, wheezing and struggling for breath. When he expressed concern the defendant assured him that his sister had some “downs” and would be all right in the morning. This statement was proven false by the results of a toxicological examination which showed morphine in the deceased’s bile and urine, and a trace of amtriptyline in her liver. According to expert testimony, amtriptyline is not a “down”, but an anti-depressant prescription drug used to elevate mood, akin to a so-called “upper”. Moreover, the presence of morphine in the bile and urine was presumptive evidence of the intake of heroin.
Significantly, the victim’s brother testified that as he entered the bedroom to assist his sister, the defendant ran down the stairs and out of the house carrying an attache case. When he reached his sister she was conscious but could not speak. By the following morning, however, she was dead.
In view of this independent evidence, although arguably at risk of innocent construction, is sufficient to indicate that the charged crime was committed. The defendant’s full confession furnished the key to explain that evidence, and nothing more is required.
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