Spano v. New York

PETITIONER: Vincent Joseph Spano
RESPONDENT: State of New York
LOCATION: Roosevelt Bar and Tavern

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 360 US 315 (1959)
ARGUED: Apr 27, 1959
DECIDED: Jun 22, 1959
GRANTED: Dec 15, 1958

Herbert S. Siegal - for the petitioner
Irving Anolik - for the respondent

Facts of the case

On January 27, 1957, Vincent Joseph Spano was involved in a bar fight with Frank Palermo, Jr. Palermo knocked Spano to the ground and kicked him in the head multiple times. Later that night, Spano acquired a gun, found Palermo, and killed him. On February 1, 1957, a grand jury indicted Spano for first-degree murder and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Two days later, Spano called Gaspar Bruno, a longtime friend of his who was enrolled in the police academy. During that conversation, Spano told Bruno that Palermo had been beaten up in a fight, he was dazed, and he shot at Palermo. The next day, Spano turned himself in but refused to answer officers’ questions. The police questioned him for several hours before they brought in Spano’s friend Bruno to play on their friendship in order to convince Spano to confess, which he eventually did.

The confession was admitted into evidence at trial, and the jury was instructed to consider it only if it was found to be voluntary. The jury found Spano guilty and sentenced him to death. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed.


Does the admission of Spano’s confession violate the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Spano v. New York

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 27, 1959 in Spano v. New York

Earl Warren:

Mr. Siegal, you may proceed.

Herbert S. Siegal:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

The petitioner, Vincent Joseph Spano, was convicted of a crime of murder in the first degree in the County Court, Bronx County, New York, was sentenced to death.

The sentence has been stayed.

Certiorari was granted by this Honorable Court on the 15th day of December, 1958.

The Court of Appeals of the State of New York affirmed the judgment of conviction by a vote of 4-to-3.

Now, may it please the Court, briefly the facts are these.

On January 22nd, 1957, the petitioner, Vincent Joseph Spano, was in a bar and grill and had a $10-bill on the counter when the deceased, one Frank Palermo walked in and took the bill off the counter and walked out of the bar.

Vincent Joseph Spano walked out after him, an argument started and Frank Palermo, a former professional fighter gave the petitioner Spano a most vicious beating, punching him down to the ground and kicking him in the head, leaving him in a dazed and bloody condition.

He became violently sick immediately, vomited right in front of him, was taken into the bar.

Someone there washed his bruises.

He went home, walked home, came back and went to the candy store that he was directed to go to by Palermo.

When Palermo gave Spano this beating he said, “This isn't all.

Bring the rest of the money to this candy store,” designating a certain candy store.

Hugo L. Black:

What did he mean by (Inaudible)

Herbert S. Siegal:

Well, he had made a demand for certain money and all he had gotten, sir, was $10 off the bar.

Hugo L. Black:

Well, you mean (Inaudible) man claiming that he owed it or --

Herbert S. Siegal:

Not that he owed it.

We contend, sir, that it was a matter of tribute, was a matter of extortion.

Palermo directed Spano to go to this designated candy store.

That to anyone in that neighborhood, amongst those people, was known as the headquarters of Palermo and when Spano got in there, as the evidence shows, three gangsters were in the place besides Palermo.

Spano had gone home in his dazed condition, had gotten a gun, had walked to the candy store and at first fired a volley of two shots up near the top of the ceiling, no where's near or in the direction of Palermo.

The evidence shows that at that time, as the petitioner stated the door behind him closed or opened and he felt someone running towards him from behind, the three in the store closing in on him and it was at that time that he fired a volley of three shots and killed Palermo.

He then, as the evidence showed, left the scene and was missing for a period of about I believe it was 10 days or two weeks, something of that order.

It then developed that Spano got in touch with an attorney named Tobias Russo, a well-known lawyer in Bronx and arranged for Mr. Russo to surrender to the authorities.

In the meantime before the surrender, the District Attorney of Bronx County had presented the evidence that they had before the Grand Jury of Bronx County and obtained an indictment charging this defendant with the crime of murder in the first degree.

Where there eyewitnesses to the murder?

Herbert S. Siegal:

There was one other.

There was one eyewitness, sir, a young boy I think 14 or 15 years of age.

The attorney, Mr. Russo made arrangements with the District Attorney, met the District Attorney in the street in front of the County Court House at or about 7:30 p.m. and there turned over, the petitioner Spano to the District Attorney, Personal Assistant District Attorney, Goldsmith and the county detective and then left.