Monday, April 02, 2007

CA: Decisions for March 27 & 29, 2007

People v LeGrand, 2007 NY Slip Op 02588 [available here]

The Court holds that the trial court's refusal to allow the defense to put on an expert witness to testify about the reliability of eyewitness identification was an abuse of discretion where the "case turned solely on the accuracy of the witnesses' identification." (LeGrand, 2007 NY Slip Op 02588.) If there is other corroborating evidence beyond the eyewitness testimony, then a defendant is probably out of luck. "In the event that sufficient corroborating evidence is found to exist, an exercise of discretion excluding eyewitness expert testimony would not be fatal to a jury verdict convicting defendant." (Id. at __.) Not sure how this squares with Holmes v South Carolina, 2006 WL 1131853 ["The point is that, by evaluating the strength of only one party's evidence, no logical conclusion can be reached regarding the strength of contrary evidence offered by the other side to rebut or cast doubt. [...] It follows that the rule applied in this case . . . violates a criminal defendant's right to have 'a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense.'"].)

People v Rowland, 2007 NY Slip Op 02630 [available here]

It is well-settled that a defendant is "entitled to withdraw his guilty plea where the plea had been induced by a promise that the defendant's prison sentence would be concurrent with his sentence on a previous conviction and where, because the previous conviction was overturned, the promise could not be kept." (People v Rowland, 2007 NY Slip Op 02630 [available here].) Usually, the prior sentence is longer than the guilty plea sentence, and the reason the defendant pleads guilty is because the promise of a concurrent sentence means no additional jail time. But what if the guilty plea sentence is the longer of the two? Not dispositive, says the Court of Appeals; "the rule of Pichardo applies even where the second sentence is longer, and thus the promise of concurrent sentencing does not mean that no additional time will result from the guilty plea." (Id.) "The critical question is whether the removal or reduction of the pre-existing sentence nullified a benefit that was expressly promised and was a material inducement to the guilty plea . . . here, we cannot say defendant would have accepted the plea bargain in the murder case had it not been for his two-to-four-year sentence in the stolen property case, now reduced to a year." (Id. at __.)

Judge Graffeo dissented, reasoning that the Pichardo should not apply because "there is ample record support for the conclusion that defendant would have accepted the plea offer even if he had not been previously convicted of criminal possession of stolen property." (Id. at __ [GRAFFEO, J., dissenting.)