Harris v. New York

LOCATION: Former New York Times Headquarters

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 401 US 222 (1971)
ARGUED: Dec 17, 1970
DECIDED: Feb 24, 1971

Facts of the case

Harris was arrested for making two sales of heroin to an undercover police officer. Before receiving the Miranda warnings, Harris said that he had made both sales at the request of the officer. This statement was not admitted into evidence at the trial. However, Harris later testified in Court that he did not make the first sale and in the second sale he merely sold the officer baking powder. Harris' initial statement was then used by the prosecution in an attempt to impeach his credibility.


Did the use of Harris' post-arrest statement violate his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights guaranteed by the Miranda decision?

Media for Harris v. New York

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 17, 1970 in Harris v. New York

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments in number 206, Viven Harris against State of New York.

Mr. Aurnou, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Joel Martin Aurnou:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

The petitioner in this case was arrested on January 7 of 1966 and subsequently charged in a two-count indictment with two identical counts of sale of a narcotic drug to an undercover agent, the same undercover agent, two days apart.

And these two offenses occurred allegedly the day before and three days before the date of his arrest.

After his arrest and the time factor in not found in the record, he was removed to the Office of the District Attorney of Westchester County at our courthouse.

And there, in the presence of a number of law enforcement officers, detectives, assistant district attorneys and so forth, and a stenographer, a written statement was taken from him which does appear in its entirety in the record before you.

However, that statement itself discloses that it followed a period of questioning, the length of which is never disclosed by the same district attorney, same law enforcement officers and there is no place in this record where the facts of the prior questioning are elicited.

It so happen that this case was tried before one of our most beloved and respected judges and when the statement came up, he, realizing precisely the point that was at issue, the difference between the Miranda view of impeachment that I take and the New York Court of Appeals’ view in the Kulis case asked the prosecutor who tried the case, who was the same prosecutor who took the statement, “Mr. Facelle, did you give this man any warning other than appears in this statement?”

And the prosecutor said, he had not.

Hugo L. Black:

Who was the trial judge?

Joel Martin Aurnou:

Judge Robert E. Dempsey, Your Honor.

Now, what that meant was that couple with the statement itself which shows you in repeated places the prosecutor says to him, “All I want you to do is tell us what you already told us before.”

And Mr. Harris, well, he was 23 years old. He did have a 10th Grade education.

Such as it was, he was an addict and he was suffering from withdrawal syndromes.

And Mr. Harris said in the face of the fact that he had been questioned without warnings and he was now being questioned by a reporter, he said “I’d like to see a lawyer.”

He said, “I don’t think I should keep on before I see a lawyer.”

And at that point, Mr. Facelle told him that he had an absolute right to a lawyer.

He said, “I’ll have him taken out.

He can get a lawyer.”

But the petitioner was indigent.

He had no prior felony convictions.

He had minimal involvement with the law in my view and I don’t think for a moment that he understood either that he had a right to cancel then and there or that he had a right to free counsel then and there, and his answer is --

Potter Stewart:

And of course as of that time he didn’t have either of those rights under the United States of Constitution, did he?

Joel Martin Aurnou:

At that date, Your Honor, Miranda had not come down and the standard had not been explicitly decided.

Potter Stewart:


Joel Martin Aurnou:

On the other hand, it is my view and I commend to you that Escobedo was in existence at that time.

Potter Stewart:

Well, that’s a fact and it’s not a matter of opinion.

Joel Martin Aurnou:

But the opinion which I believe Your Honor wrote said that confession obtained under such circumstances could not be used.