Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Selected Criminal and Family Law Decisions From the First Department

By Janet Somes:

From January & February, 2008


People v Stephens, 47 AD3d 586 (decided Jan. 31, 2008)
Lower court order of suppression of evidence reversed (ouch). Defendant was taking a walk in area where there had been some robberies. One hand was swinging while his other hand was still, near his waistband. Defendant “apparently noticed the officers” but kept looking straight ahead “as if he was very nervous or had seen a ghost”. When cops got out of car D ran and cops caught him, but not before he threw gun under a car (and some drugs too). Lower court’s finding that D’s behavior was innocuous, and reasonable suspicion lacking, was wrong, as First Dept explained that cop had suspicion that D carrying a gun based upon the way he was walking, and that suspicion was heightened when he ran away before cops could ask him questions.

People v Inglasis, 47 AD3d 593 (decided Jan. 31, 2008)
In burglary trial, it was not ineffective, or otherwise prejudicial for defense counsel to elicit from detective that he “believed” defendant had been arrested for prior robberies, given that the court immediately “struck” the testimony.

Matter of Elvin G., 47 AD3d 527 decided Jan. 29, 2008)
Search issue in JD proceeding. Lower court denied suppression without hearing on ground of factual inadequacies in allegations. Affirmed. Dean of school, responding to teacher reporting an electronic noise, possibly from a cell phone, had all students stand and started “checking” their pockets. D then took a hunting knife out of his pocket and held it in open view. First Department held there was not search, and even if there was, it was reasonably tailored to be least intrusive, most effective means of finding the offending cell phone. Only an issue of law here, which was resolvable on allegations, and no reason to remand for more proof as dissent would have done.
*DISSENT (2 judges): Was the Dean’s actions the least intrusive and most effective means? Send it back for a hearing on that issue. Also, court below failed to apply correct legal standard to this search. No showing that the suspected cell phone presented any kind of threat to safety or educational process, justifying a warrantless search. Also, family court found Dean’s actions necessary to restore order to classroom, but allegations suggested this was a substantial invasion not warranted by a ringing cell phone, which had stopped ringing by the time of the search. There were factual disputes to be resolved.

People v Packman, (January 29, 2008)
Denial of suppression reversed and indictment dismissed in well written decision. Police were looking to arrest driver of vehicle (not D) on forgery charges. They stopped car driven by suspected forger, and told passenger (D) to stay in car and keep hands in sight. D tried to exit vehicle and tried to walk away, but police stopped him. D then told to get out of car. D frisked and a small knife taken out of his pocket. Police asked for ID and D told them it was in his backpack. Police asked if they could open backpack it to get ID. A knife, which was the basis of the CPW conviction, was found in backpack. Not only was frisk illegal, but Court rejects theory that search of backpack was result of benign request and consent. People failed to meet their high burden to show consent was unequivocal product of an essentially free and unconstrained choice. People’s burden under these facts is “insuperable”.
*DISSENT: Consent valid, finding attenuation.

People v Rouse, 47 AD3d 637 (January 29, 2008)
Denial of 30.30 motion affirmed. Pre-trial readiness period of 30 days properly charged to Defendant as time without counsel, notwithstanding that the court had assigned counsel. Court assigned attorney who was in another court. There had been no request by counsel for an adjournment or consent to one. Since counsel had just been assigned and had no knowledge of the case, defendant was still without counsel within the meaning of the statute, according to the court. As to post-readiness delay, six weeks was reasonable for DA to respond to motions and provide Grand Jury minutes.

People v Harrison, 47 AD3d 541 (January 29, 2008)
Burglary third conviction affirmed. Although unpreserved, the issue of whether a van is a building is resolved against D, as the van at issue was an "inclosed motor truck," and it met the definition of a "building" under Penal Law § 140.00 (2) and § 140.20 .

People v Nunez, 47 AD3d 545 (January 29, 2008)
Order granting 30.30 dismissal affirmed. People’s statement of readiness as to challenged time period was equivocal, and held against them. DA told the court that they may not be ready on the trial date of April 17th because the DA may need to try another case that day, and suggested a date of May 2. The time between April 17 and May 2 goes against the DA.

People v Allen, 47 AD3d 543 (January 29, 2008)
CPL 440.30 (1-a) does not permit a D who has pled guilty to seek DNA testing.

People v Collado, 47 AD3d 547 (January 29, 2008)
Police had probable cause where unidentified complainant pointed out D and his companions as guys who tried to rob him. As police approached, men took “evasive” action and one (not D) pulled out “air gun” which resembled firearm. That provided probable cause to arrest and remove D to station. Although police could not find the unidentified complainant of alleged initial robbery, while at station D was conveniently identified by a witness of a different robbery, which resulted in present conviction. No one is bothered that the original unidentified complainant disappeared. Also, on PSR sentencing issue, resort to court documents (worksheet and commitment) will permit the imposition of a mandatory PRS period, where court failed to mention it during sentence (Okay, in light of the Court of Appeals decision in People v Sparber. __ NY3d __ (4/29/08) we know that this part of the decsion is wrong).

People v Holman, 46 AD3d 518 (January 24, 2008)
Court was within its discretion to permit juror to submit written questions for the witness, some of which it struck as improper, and others of which it permitted the witness to answer. Also, counsel consented to both procedure and specific questions asked, so current complaint regarding those issues was waived.

People v Davis, 47 AD3d 506 (January 22, 2008)
Refusal to charge lesser included robbery charge affirmed. Victim testified D displayed what appeared to be a firearm and there is no reason to selectively discredit this one portion of V’s testimony to charge down to a robbery third. Also, accomplice testified he heard D threaten to use gun.
*DISSENT: Jurors could have rejected accomplice’s testimony given the proof which showed no gun, and his failure to mention his current claim about D’s threat to use gun before.

People v Shemesh, (January 15, 2008)
Lower court correctly dismissed indictment (with leave to re-present) for failure to offer D a reasonable opportunity to testify before the GJ. Notice of D’s desire to testify clearly served, as was notice that he would not be able to testify during Passover dates. Although three dates were discussed for D to testify, DA eventually only offered a date when D was observing Passover. People had argued that (1) there is no valid religious reason he could not testify during Passover as attested to by a Rabbi, and (2) D did other things during that time which showed maybe he was not all that devout. First Dept would not even go there. Statutory right to testify conflicted with right to exercise religion, and D was diligent and persistent in trying to schedule a date that did not conflict.
*DISSENT: takes issue with majority’s conclusion that D did not testify on two days before Passover began due to no fault of his own.

People v Jean-Pierre, 47 AD3d 445 (January 10, 2008)
Lower court order of suppression of evidence reversed (ouch again). Arresting officer erroneously believed that a “03" sticker on D’s New Jersey License plate meant that the registration had expired in 2003. Upon stopping car, officer got a whiff of weed and saw some baggies of the stuff. His belief about the registration was reasonable, and it was a error of fact not law. Therefore he was justified in stopping the car.

People v Thomas, 47 AD3d 415 (January 3, 2008)
Conviction reversed and new trial granted. Retained counsel was properly relieved by court over D’s objection. But, court should have provided D a reasonable opportunity to retain new counsel, instead of assigning counsel chosen by the court. D made clear that if the court was going to relieve his first attorney, he wanted to hire a new one of his own choosing. Reversal would also be required by the trial court’s improvident exercise of discretion in refusing to order a CPL 730 examination as requested by new counsel. It had been over a year since the last one and there were strong indications a new exam was needed.

People v Mobley, 48 AD3d 374 (Feb 28, 2008)
Lower court order of suppression affirmed. Even though there was testimony that area was high crime area known for drugs and prostitution, there was no indication of such with regard to the lawfully parked car containing a female and male, which police approached, for no objective, credible reason, requesting information about the reason for their presence. Even if first inquiry justified, nothing about response served to elevate level of suspicion, there was no reason for second approach. Gun in plain view, seen during second approach, suppressed. Court did not buy DA’s argument that second approach was just a continuation of first approach.

People v Graham, 48 AD3d 265 (Feb 14, 2008)
Two counts reversed because court below erred in denying suppression of statements. D given Miranda by one cop, and 8 hours later he told a different cop he did not want to talk. Without re-administering Miranda, second cop told D there was evidence linking him to crime and D confessed. Questioning should have seized after D said he did not want to talk. Error harmless as to other counts.


Matter of Kalya, 47 AD3d 571 (decided Jan. 31, 2008)
Neglect (mental illness) determination affirmed. Mother’s behavior of poor impulse control and poor insight was found by the majority to constitute judgment so strongly impaired as to expose the child to risk of substantial harm as to sustain a finding of neglect. Mother’s mental health challenges included depression, inability to cope, tearfulness to the point of inability to communicate, and anger flare-ups. From the evidence doctors concluded a concomitant inability to care adequately for the child. These opinions and observations were based upon a one week period.
* DISSENT (2 judges). Of the two doctors who testified, neither had observed mother long enough to make mental illness diagnosis (2 hours by one, and 1 week following trauma of miscarriage by the other.) Evidence did not show anything more than a physically exhausted mother who had just suffered a miscarriage and had who momentarily “lost it”. Inadequate evidence of neglect due to mental illness. Also, there was a good reason for mother to become angry with the doctor - - he lied to her and tricked her into thinking she was being sent to a place for a “rest” due to exhaustion, only to learn she was being sent to hospital where she was held for evaluation. Second doctor diagnoses of depression was not shown to cause risk to child. Even if there was proof of mental illness, causal connection between condition and risk of harm not established as there needs to be a substantial probability of neglect resulting in risk to child.

Matter of Joshua R., 47 AD3d 465 (January 15, 2008)
Family Court ordered modified and finding of abuse and derivative abuse vacated (neglect and derivative neglect affirmed). After child refused to eat, father forced food in his mouth causing him to vomit, and slapped child causing a bloody nose and black eye. Neglect and derivative neglect (as to sister) were affirmed. Court noted that there was evidence that father did not believe his striking child was excessive, and the evidence did not support a finding that father inflicted an injury to child "which cause[d] or create[d] a substantial risk of death, or serious or protracted disfigurement, or protracted impairment of physical or emotional health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ" (Family Ct Act § 1012 [e] [I]).
*DISSENT: Other evidence shows father had uncontrolled anger and which creates a substantial risk of the requisite harm.

Matter of Jeffery C. (January 10, 2008)
Family Court adjudication of JD modified with PINS adjudication instead. Isolated incident was basis for the JD. The JD adjudication was not the least restrictive available alternative to meet needs of child and community.

Matter of Medina Armor S. (January 10, 2008)
Family Court termination of parental rights reversed, where court inappropriately found incarcerated father abandoned child. Father in prison on murder conviction, with earliest release date in 2016, and drug addicted mother’s whereabouts unknown. Agency took children to prison once to visit father 4 years before bringing termination petition. Petition alleged failure to communicate or visit for 6 months prior to time petition brought. Caseworker testified that she did not contact father directly, and that she did not know she could. (Family court schooled her on her obligation to communicate directly with incarcerated parent.) Evidence showed agency made no efforts to assist in communication. Right before petition filed, an inmate advocacy group contacted agency to arrange visit with father. “Although the court found respondent had abandoned the children, what it really did was take the easier route to termination of parental rights by improperly applying the ‘permanently neglected child’ element of ‘insubstantial contacts’ (Social Services Law § 384-b[7]) rather than the ‘abandoned’ child standard (§ 384-b[5])”, noting these subdivisions are designed to accomplish two different goals. No abandonment on these facts. Good decision.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Some Recent Decisions From the Second Department

From Jim Eckert:

People v Russell , 47 AD3d 732 - Defendant, charged with CPW3, claimed temporary lawful possession. The court ruled that the trial court failed to make clear in the jury instructions that the People had to disprove this claim beyond a reasonable doubt, especially in light of the trial court’s failure to adequately marshal the evidence. Answering a jury question on the issue still failed because “the proper standard regarding the burden of proof was not clearly and unequivocally conveyed.” The court apparently went beyond the CJI as well. If the rule on appeal is that the People’s burden "must be clearly and unequivocally conveyed", it would represent a significant improvement over the typical standard, which is whether the charge, taken as a whole, conveys the right standard. The latter test frequently results in approval of a charge which contains contradictory statements of the law. If the trial court doesn't know the law, the jury is still presumed to divine the proper standard from a confused court if it's in the charge somewhere. You'd think that the law must be "must be clearly and unequivocally conveyed", until now you'd have been wrong. You may still be wrong.

People v Gonzalez , 47 AD3d 831 - Following a robbery, the victim gave a description which was at odds in some ways with the defendant’s characteristics. The defense attempted to introduce expert testimony, which was denied without a Frye hearing. The court, citing People v LeGrand (8 NY3d 449) reversed based on the trial court’s refusal to permit the introduction of expert testimony on the reliability of ID testimony.

People v Romeo , 47 AD3d 954 - D “killed [the victim]” in 1985. He agreed to surrender in 1987, but instead fled to Canada and “killed a New Brunswick constable”. He returned to the US and was arrested a few days later. DNA was taken, implicating D, and he was indicted the same month. The prosecution agreed to permit Canada to try the defendant first, and successfully opposed the defendant’s motion to be arraigned first. Speedy trial concerns were raised at this time, and the County Court judge who denied the defendant’s motion said the People would have to live with the risks they were taking. D was convicted in Canada, and the People made no effort to obtain his return. In 1999, the defendant moved to dismiss on constitutional and statutory speedy trial grounds; it was denied. The People successfully argued that the then-existing extradition treaty would have required that his Canadian sentence be commuted. The treaty was amended in 2003 and extradition was sought. In 2006 D pled to Man1 and 7-21 concurrent. He did not renew his speedy trial claim. The Second Departement ruled that his constitutional speedy trial claim was not barred because he had not abandoned it before it was decided - because it was denied in 1999. On the merits, the court held that, murder is serious, but a twelve year delay is extraordinary. That the People may have mistakenly believed that the defendant could be extradited once he was convicted in Canada “militate[s] in the People’s favor”, but not enough. Unspecified prejudice to the defendant was recited, so I am not sure if it’s the obvious, or something not mentioned. The charge was dismissed.

People v Berry , 2008 WL 803939 - Inferential bolstering lives! The People elicited testimony from a detective that a telephone/address book was recovered from one of two people who fled from the scene, and who the complainant said was not the perpetrator. The detective said he photocopied one page from this person’s phone book, and put out a “wanted card” for the defendant. “The plain implication of the detective’s testimony was that [the person with the phone book], who was not called as a witness at trial, accused the defendant of committing the instant offense (see People v Johnson , 7 AD3d 732 ...)”. The People also said, in opening, that this person knew who did the shooting and identified him to police. The defendant’s objection was poor, but the trial court’s ruling demonstrated that it confronted and resolved the issue. Because this implicated the defendant’s confrontation rights, and it was a single eyewitness case, conviction reversed.

Monday, April 07, 2008

AD 4th Dept: Selected Decisions of March 21, 2008

Reckless, But Not Depraved

In People v Bolling 2008 NY Slip Op 02654 (4th Dept 3/21/08), the Fourth Department, once again, has reduced a depraved murder conviction to that of reckless manslaughter. In this case, the Court held that the fatal shot to the decedent’s thigh
"does not warrant a finding that defendant's conduct demonstrated the utter disregard for the value of human life' necessary to support the conviction
of depraved indifference murder (People v Suarez, 6 NY3d 202, 214).”
Other cases in which the Court similarly held that the evidence was insufficient
to support a depraved murder conviction include People v De Capua, 37 AD3d
1189 (4th Dept 2007), People v Smothers, 41 AD3d 1271 (4th Dept 2007),People v Casper, 42 AD3d 879 4th Dept 2007) and People v Lawhorn, 21 AD3d 1289 (4th Dept 2005).

A General Objection Is Generally Insufficient

Reminding attorneys that a general objection is hardly any better than no
objection at all, the Court, in People v Mobley 2008 NY Slip Op 02663 (4th Dept 3/21/2008), held that

Because defendant made only a general objection to the testimony of a
police officer that there was "a point in time in [her] investigation
when [she] came up with the name of a suspect" and that the name of
the suspect was that of defendant, he also failed to preserve for our
review his contention that such testimony constituted inadmissible
inferential hearsay (see People v Piper, 21 AD3d 816, lv denied 5
NY3d 884; People v Pierre, 300 AD2d 1070, lv denied 99 NY2d 631).

Proof of Illegal Entry Insufficient to Establish Intent to Commit Larceny

In affirming a trial court’s pre-trial reduction of a burglary count to one
of criminal trespass, the Court, in People v Holmes 2008 NY Slip Op 02669
(4th Dept 3/21/2008), held that

The evidence before the grand jury, viewed in the light most
favorable to the prosecution (see People v Antonelli, 300 AD2d 312,
313, lv denied 99 NY2d 612, citing People v Manini, 79 NY2d 561), is
legally insufficient to support the burglary charge because the
indictment expressly set forth that defendant intended to commit a
larceny, and the People failed to present evidence from which the
grand jury could infer that he had that intent (see generally People
v Barnes
, 50 NY2d 375, 379). Although "it is not necessary for the
People in a burglary prosecution to demonstrate the exact crime which
defendant intended to commit while unlawfully in the building . . .,
the prosecution in this case expressly limited its theory to one of
larceny, and, having done so, . . . the prosecution [is held] to this
narrower theory alone" (id.).