Eye On Eagle

Most Recently Decided Cases

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Decided May 2, 2017
People v. Jose Valentin
Decided September 20, 2016
People v. William Sosa
Decided August 25, 2016
People v. Cliffton Fletcher
Decided June 30, 2016
People v. Sparkle Daniel
Decided June 30, 2016
People v. Nadine Panton
Decided June 28, 2016
People v. Charles Smith, Tyler Ingram, and Isma McGhee
Issue before the Court: Whether a defendant has a right to cross-examine police officers about their involvement in misconduct underlying claims of false arrest and excessive force as prior bad acts bearing on the officers’ credibility.
 
Held: Law enforcement witnesses should be treated in the same manner as any other witness for purposes of cross-examination: provided defense counsel has a good faith basis for the inquiry, and subject to the court’s discretion to fix reasonable limits, the defense may questions police officers about their involvement in actions underlying lawsuits brought against them by others they have arrested.  
 
CAL Observes:
In a ruling that traced the constitutional foundations for cross-examination and the right to impeach a witness by inquiring about facts relevant to their general credibility, the Court led with the unremarkable proposition that police witnesses should be subject to the same impeachment rules as other witnesses. The Court ruled that a police witness’s prior bad acts can be an appropriate subject for cross-examination even if they have not been proven in a judicial proceeding: allegations alone can present a good-faith basis for questioning. The Court read “bad act” broadly, pointing out that prior bad acts need not be criminal or immoral to be relevant, so long as they suggest that the officer might place her individual self interest above that of society. Participation in false arrests, unauthorized searches, excessive force, and fabrication of evidence, were all appropriate grounds for inquiry. While defense counsel in each of the cases had sought permission in advance to question the officers with a formal proffer, the Court found no such application necessary; holding instead that defense counsel could simply have begun questionning the officers and, upon objection, made a showing of relevance and good faith. _ N.Y.3d _, 2016 WL 3494644 at n.2. In each case, the Court found error: although a court has discretion to place reasonable limits on cross-examination to avoid confusing the issues and misleading the jury, the courts here had abused their discretion by forbidding the line of inquiry entirely. While the Court found the error harmless in Smith and McGhee, it reversed in Ingram.
Decided June 28, 2016
People v. Dennis J. Sincerbeaux
Issue before the Court: Was it appropriate for the SORA court to assess 30 points under risk factor 9 of the Risk Assessment Instrument [“RAI”], based on the defendant’s prior misdemeanor conviction for endangering the welfare of a child, even though that prior crime did not involve any allegations of sexual misconduct?
 
Held: Yes.  The Board of Examiners of Sex Offenders has established that offenders are scored 30 points under risk factor 9 if they have a prior conviction for endangering the welfare of a child. In contrast, other  non-sex prior misdemeanor convictions generally requires assessment of only five points under risk factor 9.  The Guidelines state that “the Board decided to treat endangering the welfare of a child as if it were a sex crime because it generally involves sexual misconduct, especially when it is part of a plea bargained disposition. Where a review of the record indicates that there was no such misconduct, a departure may be warranted.” 
 
The Court of Appeals held that assessing 30 points, therefore, was mandatory. However, the SORA court had the discretion to downwardly depart based on the non-sexual nature of the prior crime.  In Sincerbeaux, the SORA court’s refusal to depart downward was not error as a matter of law [“abuse of discretion”] because the record in Sincerbeaux showed other aggravating factors that weighed against a downward departure. The complainant in the most recent case – the conviction that was the subject of the SORA hearing –  had “experienced years of physical abuse as a result of her attempts to refuse defendant’s sexual advances.”
 
CAL Observes:
In People v. Knox, 12 N.Y.3d 60 (2009), the Court of Appeals held that due process was not violated by including kidnaping in the list of crimes that require SORA registration –  even if there is no proof that the kidnaping involved any sexual act or sexual motive. The Court found the SORA registration requirement to be “rationally related to legitimate government interests” because the Legislature reasonably determined that in a large number of cases where people kidnap or unlawfully imprison other people’s children, the children either are sexually assaulted or are in danger of sexual assault.
 
Both this case and People v. Howard present variations on the Knox theme. In each case, the Court noted that defendants failed to preserve their constitutional challenges to using non-sex crimes for assessing points [Sincerbeaux] or for invoking an override to a presumptive level three [Howard]. It would appear that the constitutional issue is ripe for a leave grant. While Judge Rivera dissented in both cases, leave can only be granted upon  motion to the full court because SORA appeals are treated as civil appeals.  It remains to be seen if the full Court wants to reach the additional constitutional claims that arise in these cases.
Decided June 23, 2016
People v. Glenn S. Smith
 
Decided June 23, 2016
People v. Norman E. Ramsey
Decided June 23, 2016
People v. Dayshawn Crooks
Decided June 14, 2016
People v. Perry C. Griggs
Decided June 14, 2016
People v. Anthony Berry
Decided June 14, 2016
People v. Scott Barden
Issues before the Court: CPL 30.30 - (1) “[W]ho is chargeable, for statutory speedy trial purposes, with each discrete time period within a pre-readiness adjournment when the People initially request an adjournment to a specific date, defense counsel is unavailable on that date and requests a later date, but the court is unavailable on the later date, resulting in an even longer adjournment?” (2)  [W]hether defense counsel consented to the additional delay occasioned by the court’s calendar when, upon being advised by the court of its next available date, counsel responded, ‘[t]hat should be fine.’”?
 
Held: (1) In the pre-readiness context, where the burden is on the People to show excludable time, mere accommodation to the People’s or the court’s requests for certain dates does not qualify as “consent” to the adjournment, and the time is all includable. (2) Counsel merely saying, “[t]hat should be fine,” is accommodation, not consent.
 
CAL Observes: Defense lawyers should be extremely careful in what they say to the People’s or the court’s requests for adjournment dates.  If you are unavailble on the suggested dates you can say so without evincing “consent” under 30.30.  But explanations of why you want more time for your convenience, schedule,  or the needs of defending the case, will constitute consent.  Say as little as possible.
Decided June 9, 2016
People v. Gary Wright
Decided June 7, 2016
People v. Leroy Carver
Decided June 7, 2016
People v. Baasil Reynolds
Decided June 7, 2016
People v. Shane Morris
Revisiting O'Rama as mode-of-proceeding error
Decided May 10, 2016
People v. Jonathan J. Connolly
Decided May 3, 2016
People v. Tyrone D. Manor
Decided May 10, 2016
People v. Wayne Henderson
Decided May 3, 2016
People v. Quanaparker Howard
Issue before the Court: Whether the SORA court erred in declining to depart from the serious physical injury override’s presumptive level-3 risk designation, where the offense was unlawful imprisonment and the serious physical injury had no sexual component.
 
Held: No. The inflicting of serious physical injury required the SORA court to invoke the override and made the defendant a presumptive level 3. The Court of Appeals held that the non-sexual nature of the offense could be a basis for a downward departure from that presumptive level 3. The override makes the defendant a “presumptive” level 3 but level 3 is not mandatory. The Court stressed that, “There is nothing in the record to suggest that the hearing court felt it did not possess the discretion to depart from the presumptive level three.” The SORA court found that the torture inflicted, while not sexual in nature, posed a serious risk to public safety that is not captured by the scoring instrument [“RAI”]. See People v. Gillotti, 23 N.Y.3d 841 (2014) (articulating standard for downward departure).
 
CAL Observes:
In People v. Knox, 12 N.Y.3d 60 (2009), the Court of Appeals held that due process was not violated by including kidnaping in the list of crimes that require SORA registration –  even if there is no proof that the kidnaping involved any sexual act or sexual motive. The Court found the SORA registration requirement to be “rationally related to legitimate government interests” because the Legislature reasonably determined that in a large number of cases where people kidnap or unlawfully imprison other people’s children, the children either are sexually assaulted or are in danger of sexual assault.
 
Both this case and People v. Sincerbeaux present variations on the Knox theme. In each case, the Court noted that defendants failed to preserve their constitutional challenges to using non-sex crimes for assessing points [Sincerbeaux] or for invoking an override to a presumptive level three [Howard]. It would appear that the constitutional issue is ripe for a leave grant. While Judge Rivera dissented in both cases, leave can only be granted upon  motion to the full court because SORA appeals are treated as civil appeals.  It remains to be seen if the full Court wants to reach the additional constitutional claims that arise in these cases.
 
Decided May 3, 2016
People v. Joel Joseph
Decided May 3, 2016
People v. Elliot Parrilla
Issue before the Court: Whether, to be guilty of fourth-degree weapon possession, under PL 265.01(1),  for possessing a “gravity knife” the possessor must know that the tool has the characteristics of a gravity knife.  In this case, the knife was common workman’s tool, a regular folding knife purchased legally at the Home Depot.  DA Vance has been prosecuting these cases since 2010, ensnaring thousands of unwary common laborers in a web of criminality.  These thousands did not know that the knife flicked out, nor would they be able to do so even if they did know.  Only specially trained NYPD officers are able to get these utility knives to open in this fashion.
 
Held: To be guilty of gravity knife possession under subd. 1, the defendant need not know that the object met the definition of a gravity knife.  
 
CAL Observes:  
Although not apparent to the general reader, the way the Court decided the case was an unprincipled mess.  (Disclaimer, this was a CAL case.) First of all, contrary to the Court’s decision, the defense contention was NOT that the defendant had to know that the object met the statutory definition of a gravity knife.  That was specifically not the defense contention.  Rather, the defense contention was that, in order for the possession to be voluntary and knowing, as IS required under the statute, the defendant has to, at the very least, know that the object he possessed flicked out–the essential characteristic of a gravity knife.  In other words, he had to at least know that he possessed something other than a common folding knife.  Thus, the Court felt it had to deliberately mis-frame the defense contention.  Second, although the Court stated that “It is undisputed that to be convicted of criminal possession of a weapon for possession of a gravity knife under PL 265.01 (1) defendants must know that they possess a knife,”   actually, that WAS disputed by the People.  DA Vance argued that, since the crime was one of strict liability, all the defendant has to know is that he possessed an object, not necessarily a knife.  The People opposed injecting ANY  mens rea requirement of knowing KNIFE possession, as that was inconsistent with their strict liability argument.  The requirement of knowledge of KNIFE possession is a uniquely First Department construct, with its unique reasoning and line of cases.  In coming to its decision, the Court of Appeals blandly cited to that line of cases, as if everyone agrees that this is so; in reality, the Court did inject a mens rea requirement into the statute, one not present in the statutory language.  So, in the guise of just upholding the statutory language, the Court actually and actively decided a significant issue of statutory construction at variance with the statutory wording.  To come to this result,  the Court had to misstate both the issue really in question, and what was actually in dispute.  And, of course, they left thousands of common laborers in the position of being unwary criminals sucked into DA Vance’s war on laborers.
 
One immediate consequence of this inhumane decision was that both houses of the State Legislature immediately passed a bill taking common folding knives out of the definition of “gravity knives.”  The legislation is awaiting the Governor’s signature.  Although content to rely on the wisdom of the Legislature when arguing Parrilla in the Court of Appeals (hey guys, it’s harsh, but this is what the legislature wanted), DA Vance is urging the Governor not to sign.