The Fourth Department handed down decisions from its June, 2006 term today. Usually, the June term is fairly quiet, because the Court does not hear oral argument and thus the only cases decided are those that are marked "submitted", i.e. no oral argument is requested. Usually, an attorney will only submit a case if the issues are not likely to succeed. However, the Court must have had an inordinate amount of cases held over from other terms, because this is truly an unbelievable packet for criminal defendants. In Monroe County alone, 7 of the 11 criminal decisions were substantive pro-defendant reversals or modifications. That clocks out to an incredible 64 percent reversal rate in Monroe County for the June term. The usual reversal rate hovers between 5-10 percent. Needless to say, there are a lot of cases worthy of comment that I will get to in the coming weeks. For tonight, I'll leave you with . . .
People v Simmons, __ AD3d __ [available here]
In a truly tragic case, appellant Leroy Simmons was convicted of criminally negligent homicide when his car slid through a slippery intersection and struck a woman carrying her infant child. Although the woman wasn't injured, her baby was thrown from her arms and died. The facts (from the Court's decision):
The evidence presented at trial, viewed in the light most favorable to the People, establishes that defendant was driving his vehicle at a rate slightly above the usual speed limit of 30 miles per hour and that, due to road work, 15 miles per hour speed limit signs were posted. The evidence further establishes that defendant belatedly realized that the two victims, a woman and her infant, were in the intersection and that his attempts to stop his vehicle prior to reaching the intersection were futile because the road recently had been resurfaced, resulting in oil and loose gravel on the road. Defendant thus failed to stop at the stop sign, skidded through the intersection and struck the victims, fatally injuring the infant.
(Simmons, __ AD3d at __.)
On those facts, the Court reversed Simmons' conviction for criminally negligent homicide (in the interest of justice, no less), finding that "the evidence is legally insufficient to establish that defendants' acts were 'a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe' under the circumstances." (Id. at __.) The Court concluded that, while Mr. Simmons' actions "'may well constitute civil negligence . . . the [evidence is legally insufficient to] establish criminal negligence'". (Id. at __ [brackets and emphasis in original].)
Justice Martoche dissented, and would not have reached the unpreserved issue in the interest of justice (and in any event would have found "a valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences" to support the jury's verdict). (Id. at __ [MARTOCHE, J., dissenting].)