Wednesday, June 14, 2006

CA: trial court's failure to submit CPW3 reviewable, but not an abuse of discretion

People v Leon, __ NY3d __ [available here]

Rolando Leon was "involved in a dispute with another drug dealer, Hattie Dukes." (Leon, _ NY3d at __.) Apparently not one to reason with his adversaries, Leon "got a gun from under his mattress, went to where Dukes and his girlfriend were quarelling, and killed Dukes by shooting her in the face." (Id. at __.) Leon claimed self-defense; the jury believed him and acquitted Leon of murder. However, the jury did convict Leon of Criminal Possession of a Weapon (CPW) in the Second Degree. Leon had been charged by indictment with both CPW2 and CPW3; the Court notes the difference:

The People charged defendant with second-degree criminal possession on the theory that he possessed a loaded firearm "with intent to use the same unlawfully against another". The indictment also contained a charge of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, which is committed by possessing a loaded firearm anywhere except in one's home or place of business.

(Id. at __.)

Defense counsel asked that both CPW2 and CPW3 be submitted to the jury; the trial court refused. Since CPW3 is not a lesser-included offense of CPW2, the Court of Appeals reviewed the trial court's refusal to submit the count for an abuse of discretion. From the decision:

The problem in this case exists because criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree is not a "lesser included offense" of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. Rather, the two are "non-inclusory concurrent counts" (see CPL Ÿ 300.30 [3], [4]); it is possible to commit the greater offense without committing the lesser one. Second-degree criminal possession, in the form of possession of a loaded firearm with intent to use it unlawfully against another, can be committed anywhere, but possession of a loaded firearm constitutes the third-degree crime charged here only when it does not occur in the defendant's home or place of business. [...]

If the crime defendant asked to have submitted to the jury had been a lesser included offense, the court would have been required to grant his request "if there [was] a reasonable view of the evidence which would support a finding that the defendant committed such lesser offense but did not commit the greater" (CPL 300.50 [1]; see CPL Ÿ 300.50 [2]). But because the two offenses are non-inclusory, the submission of the less serious count, even if there was evidence to support it, was not mandatory. [...] [W]hether to submit it was a matter for the trial court's discretion under CPL ß 300.40 (3) and (4). "With respect to non-inclusory concurrent counts, the court may in its discretion submit one or more or all thereof" (CPL Ÿ 300.40 [3] [a]).[...]

(Id. at __.)

The Court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion, since the idea that the defendant could have simply possessed the gun with no unlawful purpose (and therefore been guilty of CPW3 instead of CPW2) was "farfetched" and a defendant is not entitled to submit a lesser crime to the jury in hopes of jury nullification. (Id. at __.)

The Court also rejected the People's argument that "a discretionary ruling in their favor cannot be challenged," holding that the CPL section cited by the People in support of their argument was not applicable "to already discretionary rulings like the one at issue in this case." (Id. at __.)

More over the next few days on the new decisions handed down by the Fourth Department last Friday.