Spano v. New York

Spano (petitioner / past defendant)
New York (respondent)
360 U.S. 315, 79 S.Ct. 1202, 3 L.Ed.2d 1265 • 1959


The defendant was drinking in a bar when the decedent took some of the defendant’s money. The defendant pursued the decedent to recover his money, causing a fight which the defendant lost.

The defendant returned home, got a gun, went to find the decedent, and shot the decedent dead.

An indictment was issued against the defendant. The defendant, accompanied by his lawyer, turned himself in to the police.

The police and district attorneys questioned the defendant for hours on end. repeatedly, the defendant refused to answer their questions without his attorney. His requests for his attorney were repeatedly denied.

Eventually the police procured a confession from the defendant by using his friendship with an officer to their advantage.


The trial court allowed the confession to be entered into evidence and instructed the jury to consider it only if it was found to be voluntary. The jury returned a guilty verdict and the defendant was sentenced to death.

The New York Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.


Can a confession be admitted into evidence if it was voluntary but given after several hours of questioning, disingenuous methods, and without the presence of counsel for the defendant.



Given all the facts, such a confession violates the Fourteenth Amendment.


This defendant did not make a statement; rather, he was asked leading questions by a prosecutor. He was questioned by many men, not just a few. He was questioned for virtually eight hours straight. The questioning began in the late evening and continued through the early morning. The questions persisted in the face of his refusal to answer.

The defendant’s requests for his attorney were refused. The police used his friendship with an officer to disingenuously procure the confession.

All of the circumstances in this case make it likely that the defendant’s will was “overborne by official pressure, fatigue, and sympathy falsely aroused.”

Since the defendant had already been indicted, the police were not trying to solve a crime here; rather they were concerned with only procuring a confession. For this reason, we must examine this with the most careful scrutiny.

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