Decision Reversed In Case For Cassadaga Man Charged With Predatory Sexual Assault Of Child

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ROCHESTER –  The New York State Fourth Appellate Division released a ruling Friday reversing a decision by Chautauqua County Judge David Foley that granted the suppression of statements that a Cassadaga man accused of predatory sexual assault of a child allegedly made.

The ruling remitted the case back to Chautauqua County Court for further proceedings on the indictment. According to the ruling, the Chautauqua County District Attorney’s Office appeal came after Foley ruled that certain statements that Steven Morris during an investigation of his alleged unlawful sexual contact with a three-year-old could be suppressed.

The court said that they agreed with the DA’s office that County Court erred in suppressing Morris’ oral statements made to the mother of the alleged victim during a controlled telephone call recorded by the Police.

In addition, the Appellate Division’s ruling established that the mother was acting as an agent of the people when she made the controlled call. However, the court said that the mother “did not make a threat [or a promise] that would create a substantial risk that defendant might falsely incriminate himself.”

The ruling went further, stating, “We further conclude that the controlled call did not constitute an unconstitutionally coercive police tactic; nor were the tactics employed by the mother during the unconstitutionally coercive……We also agree with the People that the court erred in suppressing statements made by defendant during an interview with investigators from the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office based upon a purported Miranda violation. It is well established that “both the elements of police ‘custody’ and police ‘interrogation’ must be present before law enforcement officials constitutionally are obligated to provide the procedural safeguards imposed upon them by Miranda.”

“Here, the evidence at the Huntley hearing established that the investigators subjected defendant to interrogation. Contrary to the court’s conclusion, however, the evidence also established that defendant was not in custody when he
made the statements.”

The ruling also discussed the custodial status of Morris during an interview at the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office.

“The standard for assessing a suspect’s custodial status is whether a reasonable person innocent of any wrongdoing would have believed that he or she was not free to leave” (People v Paulman, 5NY3d 122, 129 [2005]). The test is “not what the defendant thought, but rather what a reasonable [person], innocent of any crime, would have thought had he [or she] been in the defendant’s position” (People v Figueroa, 156 AD3d 1348, 1348 [4th Dept 2017], lv denied 31 NY3d1013 [2018] [internal quotation marks omitted]; see People v Yukl, 25 NY2d 585, 589 [1969], cert denied 400 US 851 [1970]).”

“In this case, although defendant’s interview occurred at the Sheriff’s Office, that fact “does not necessarily mean that he is to be considered ‘in custody’. Defendant voluntarily agreed to meet the investigators at the Sheriff’s Office and arranged for his own transportation to and from the interview.”

“When defendant arrived, the investigators informed him that he was free to leave. In fact, defendant left the Sheriff’s Office at the conclusion of the interview despite making inculpatory statements. Further, defendant was not restrained during the interview, and the door to the interview room was unlocked. Although the investigators confronted defendant with the statements that he made during the controlled call, the fact that the questioning may have turned accusatory in nature did not render the interview custodial given the other circumstances present in this case.

Morris, who was charged by the Sheriff’s Office in Jun. 2017, allegedly committed the act in Apr. 2017.

The Cassadaga man is charged with first-degree criminal sexual act and predatory sexaul assault against a child, and he is in Chautauqua County Jail on $150,000 cash bail.

Wendy Evan Lehmann is listed as counsel for District Attorney Patrick E. Swanson. Lyle T. Hadju represented Morris in the appeal.


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