Panel Declares Nursing Home Worker’s Apology Should Have Been Suppressed

In a decision released yesterday, a New York appellate panel ruled that the lower court should have suppressed a nursing home worker’s apology to police after sexually assaulting a Queens nursing home resident. According to the panel, the apology occurred in the midst of an interrogation, and thus the officer conducting the interview should have Mirandized the defendant, informing him of his right not to speak and to request an attorney.

The defendant was convicted in 2009 of a first-degree criminal sex act and endangering the welfare of an incompetent person after sexually assaulting a 64 year old female nursing home resident at Cliffside Nursing Home in Queens. The conviction carries up to a 10 year prison sentence.

At a hearing before the initial trial, the court denied defense counsel’s motion to supress the apology, finding that it was not the product of an interrogation. The appellate panel concluded that the court ruled incorrectly; in fact, the defendant could have reasonably inferred that the interview had begun based upon the detective’s words an actions in the interview room. Statements by the detective during the interview about eyewitnesses to the sexual assault led the defendant to apologize.

Despite the panel’s ruling that the apology should have been suppressed, the conviction of the defendant was upheld. The panel ruled it “harmless error,” stating that given the overwhelming evidence against the defendant, specifically the witness to the assault, he would have been convicted notwithstanding the absence of the apology. Counsel for the defense plans to appeal this aspect of the ruling, citing a violation of his client’s constitutional rights.

Website Resource: New York Law Journal, People v. Tavares-Nunez, Andrew Keshner, October 4, 2011

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