Monday, December 05, 2005

Court of Appeals: Leftovers

People v Green, __ NY3d __, 2005 WL 3091106

In a somewhat counter-intuitive decision, the Court of Appeals holds in People v Green that, while a defendant may have a perfectly viable defense to a criminal charge, he is not necessarily entitled to have the jury instructed on that defense. Mr. Green was arrested and charged with robbery for forcibly taking a CD player from a man named Pabon--"Defendant snatched the player out of Pabon's hand, walked away and allegedly began listening to the 'Busta Rhymes' CD in the disc player." (People v Green, 2005 WL 3091106.) Mr. Green claimed the disc player and Busta CD was actually his, and had been taken from him earlier that day. As the Court notes in its decision, this can be a valid defense to robbery--"because the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant intended to take property from someone with a superior right to possession, a good-faith but mistaken claim of right might defeat a robbery prosecution." (Id.) However, the error claimed on appeal was not that the trial court thwarted defendant's attempt to make out this defense; it was that the trial court erred in refusing to specifically charge the jury that defendant's good-faith belief that the CD player was his could be a defense to the robbery. The Court of Appeals held that the defendant was not entitled to an instruction:

[S]imply because a jury might be convinced by a claim-of-right argument, it does not follow that a claim-of-right charge, derived from a statutory defense limited to certain types of larceny, is also available to defendants in robbery prosecutions. Such an instruction by the court, over and above an instruction on the element of intent, unquestionably aids the defendant by underscoring one aspect of proof, or lack of proof. The Legislature did not provide that additional assistance where the defendant employs physical force.

(Id. [emphasis in original])

The Court notes the policy issue involved--"a claim-of-right charge in the robbery context encourages forcible self-help in pursuing property"--and that very practical consideration no doubt played a part in the outcome. (Id.) However, it leaves similarly-situated defendants in the somewhat awkward position of having a complete defense recognized by the Court of Appeals, but no way to specifically inform the jury of this defense. (Id. [leaving defendants "free to make the argument to the jury" but entitled to no charge].) Regardless of the policy involved, this seems a bit odd.

People v Carvajal, __ NY3d __, 2005 WL 3108185

As noted previously, this decision is a monster--a 17 page majority opinion followed by 23 pages of dissent. The majority's holding in a nutshell--a New York conviction for constructive possession of drugs can stand even though neither the defendant nor the drugs were in New York at the time of arrest, where the defendant engaged in conduct in New York sufficient to establish a conspiracy to possess the out-of-state drugs, because CPL 20.20[1][c] allows for "jurisdiction over an offense . . . based on a conspiracy occurring in New York to commit that offense." (People v Carvajal, 2005 WL 3108185.) The dissent argued that "the Constitution of the State of New and the laws of the State of New York do not permit a person to be found guilty of criminal possession of a controlled substance on a theory of constructive possession rather than actual possession where both the substance and the defendant are in California [...]." (Id.)