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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Wednesday, January 2, 2008

I Confess: New York Judge Vacates Conviction Based Upon New Evidence And Questions About Defendant's Low IQ

In 2004, Dan Lackey was convicted of first degree sexual abuse and sentenced to eight years imprisonment based upon his alleged sexual assault of an unnamed victim on January 6, 2003 in New York.  Based upon newly discovered evidence, however, Madison County Judge Biagio DiStephano vacated his conviction.  The new evidence was the fact that the victim reported in November 2004 that she had been the victim of another sexual assault.  Later, however, she admitted that she made up the November incident and spent 3 months in jail on charges of third-degree falsely reporting an incident and making a punishable false statement.  According to her, she had been hearing voices and blacked out.  She initially thought that she was attacked, but later realized she had caused her own injuries.

Judge DiStephano determined that this evidence was sufficient to vacate Lackey's conviction because of the overall weakness of the case against Lackey.  Specifically, the victim was never able to identify Lackey as her assailant, there was no scientific evidence linking him to the crime, and while Lackey did give an admissible  confession, there were questions about his ability to waive his Miranda rights based upon his IQ of 73.

Judge DiStephano's ruling appears correct to me, and it makes me wonder whether New York courts and courts across the country too rarely find that defendants lack the mental capacity to waive their Miranda rights.  Like most states' courts, New York courts hold that "low intelligence is but one factor to be taken into account in the totality of circumstances of custodial interrogation, and that individuals with borderline or impaired intellectual functioning may be perfectly capable of knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily waiving their Miranda rights." Matter of Kenneth C., 479 N.Y.S.2d 396, 403 (N.Y.Fam.Ct. 1984).  Thus, for instance, New York courts have found knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of Miranda rights by defendants with:

     -a verbal IQ of 64 and a performance IQ of 86. See id. at 403;

     -an "extremely low" intelligent quotient bespeaking some degree of mental retardation. People v. Kelly, 67 A.D.2d 1009 (N.Y.A.D. 2nd Dept. 1979);

     -a score of 70 on an intelligence test, indicating a mental defect or mild mental retardation. See People v. Chaffee, 42 A.D.2d 172, 173 (N.Y.A.D. 3rd Dept. 1973);

     -a score of 77 on an IQ test. See People v. Lux, 34 A.D.2d 662 (N.Y.A.D. 2nd Dept. 1970).

I don't have the background to be able to determine whether individuals in these IQ ranges can both understand the rights they possess and what it means to waive them.  That said, when results like the vacating of Lackey's conviction occur, it makes me wonder both whether confessions by those with low IQs should be admissible and whether they have any probative value.

-CM

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