The postings below present recent noteworthy CAL court appearances and case outcomes. Please use the Contact Us inquiry form if you'd like further information about any of these cases.
On November 16, 2017, the Appellate Division unanimously reduced the 40-years-to-life aggregate sentence of our client, S.M., to 25 years to life. Convicted, after a jury trial, of felony murder and second-degree (“simple”) weapon possession, he had received consecutive sentences of 25 to life and 15 years. On appeal, we had challenged, as unduly suggestive, a lineup identification of our client and the court’s charge on accomplice corroboration. The appellate panel rebuffed these arguments. We also challenged the consecutive sentence as unlawful under People v. Brown, 21 N.Y.3d 739 (2013), arguing that, since the weapon (a gun) was obtained only because of and after the plan to commit the crime with it was allegedly hatched — the intended crime being a robbery — it did not pass Brown’s test for consecutive sentencing. The Appellate Division thought otherwise. In the alternative, we had argued that such consecutive sentencing constituted an abuse of discretion, since our client had allegedly sought to unload the gun prior to the robbery and had also expressed interest in the court’s guilty-plea offer of 20-to-life that had been tendered to him and his co-defendant following the declaration of a mistrial and prior to the start of the retrial that resulted in their convictions. Conditioned on both defendants’ accepting it, the plea did not come to fruition because the co-defendant rejected it. See People v. Fiumefreddo, 82 N.Y.2d 536, 544 (1993). The Appellate Division did not give any reasons, but reduced our client’s sentence as a matter of discretion. He is represented by CAL attorney Susan Salomon.
On October 13, 2017, the Appellate Term threw out CAL client JE’s conviction after finding that he had not properly been advised of his Boykin
rights before he waived them and pleaded guilty to seventh-degree controlled substance possession. Previously assigned counsel had filed an Anders
brief seeking to be relieved. The court rejected the view that no non-frivolous issue existed and asked CAL to review the case. Upon that review, CAL argued that Mr. E had suffered a serious deprivation of his due process rights. The People conceded error, and the court agreed that dismissal rather than remand for further proceedings was the appropriate remedy. Kate Skolnick represented JE.
It took the New York County District Attorney’s Office nearly nine years to produce CAL client C.D. for sentencing, even though C.D. was in New York State custody for the vast majority of that entire nine-year period. On appeal, CAL argued that the prosecution’s extreme delay violated C.D.’s statutory right to prompt sentencing under C.P.L. 380.30(1). The Appellate Division remanded the matter to the sentencing court to give the prosecution an opportunity to respond to CAL’s argument. But on October 10, 2017, a representative of the District Attorney’s Office stood before the court and conceded that “the People can’t prevail on the hearing in this matter … and the case should be dismissed.” Supreme Court Justice Felicia Mennin dismissed the case and sealed the indictment. Ben A. Schatz represented C.D. on appeal and remand.
In a murder and robbery prosecution against CAL client C.W., a prospective juror stated to the judge that he was an active NYPD officer and could be absolutely fair. When questioned further by defense counsel, he maintained that because police officers testify “based on facts, evidence and what the victim tells us,” there’ was “no room to make error,” unless the witness provided the officer with inaccurate information. On further questioning by defense counsel, the prospective juror allowed only “a little room” for the possibility of independent mistake, lying, or exaggeration. The court conducted no follow-up questioning, and denied defense counsel’s challenge. On September 26, 2017, AD1 reversed, finding that “[t]he panelist clearly showed a predisposition to believe that police officers testify truthfully,” and that he never expressly stated that his prior state of mind would not influence the verdict, as the law requires. Barbara Zolot represented client C.W.
After arresting our client, P.F., for murder, detectives questioned him at the station house. At the Huntley hearing, a detective testified that he gave P.F. Miranda warnings and P.F. stated he understood them. The detectives then elicited a statement from him. Several hours later, P.F. was questioned by an ADA on videotape. Upon P.F.’s being given Miranda warnings, the videotaped showed, P.F. clearly did not understand that a lawyer would be appointed for him if he could not afford one. The Huntley court suppressed the videotaped statement but refused to suppress the earlier one at the station house because the earlier Miranda waiver went smoothly. The Appellate Division reversed, given P.F.’s fundamental misunderstanding of his right to counsel.
On September 19, V.R. received a SORA Level 1 after the court granted a downward departure based on his exceptional conduct during his sentence, which included a strong performance in sex offender treatment program, as well as his unusual degree of support in the community. The court found that these mitigating factors reduce V.R.’s risk of future recidivism, such that the lowest registration level would be sufficient to protect the public safety.
On September 1, G.R.’s SORA level was reduced to Level 1 with the unanimous approval of the court, the District Attorney’s Office, and the Board of Sex Offender Examiners. In the ten years since his misdemeanor conviction, G.R. successfully completed an intensive term of probation as well as sex offender treatment, has avoided any criminal contacts, and has maintained employment in a public service position in which he serves as a mentor to young fathers with criminal records. He himself is a devoted father who enjoys the support of a large community of family and friends. G.R.’s petition to reduce his registration level to the lowest level was enthusiastically granted.
On August 8, the court granted a downward departure to SORA Level 2 for R.A.R. in recognition of his extraordinary rehabilitative efforts over the course of his 30-year sentence. R.A.R. entered prison as a military veteran with a severe drug and alcohol addiction who had committed a very serious crime. During his sentence, however, he maintained a near-perfect disciplinary record, developed a devoted religious practice, and excelled in multiple treatment programs. Finding that the SORA Guidelines did not adequately take into account R.A.R.’s considerable remorse and rehabilitation, the court granted a downward departure.
C.S. accepted a guilty plea in 2014 to a charge that no one—not the judge, the A.D.A. who offered her the plea bargain, or her defense attorney—realized would require her to register as a sex offender. More than two years after her sentence was over, after she had moved on with her life, she was notified of this consequence by the state of New York. CAL filed a motion to withdraw her guilty plea, arguing that if C.S. had been told about this significant consequence at the time she pled guilty, she would never have accepted the plea offer. Agreeing that sex offender registration was not the intended result of their plea bargain, the prosecution consented to vacate her conviction and allowed C.S. to plead guilty to an alternative charge that would not brand her as a sex offender. Our client was represented by Molly Schindler.
On August 1, 2017, the Appellate Division First Department reversed Cal client A.B.’s attempted murder conviction and 25 year sentence. A.B. was accused of attempting to kill the complainant during a robbery of a drug spot. During the incident, the complainant was shot in the head and subsequently had the frontal lobe of his brain removed. At trial, the complainant provided conflicting testimony concerning what happened during the incident ; he was initially unable to identify his shooter. Following an overnight recess, the complainant returned to court and insisted that A.B. was responsible. The jury convicted A.B. after the prosecution presented expert testimony, refuted by medical records, that the complainant’s brain remained “intact” despite his massive injuries. The Appellate Division reversed the conviction after extensively reviewing the evidence in a lengthy decision. The court refused to dismiss the charges because the verdict was against the weight of the evidence, but found that the defense had been prejudiced by the introduction of hearsay evidence. That evidence had provided an alibi to the person the defense claimed had actually done the shooting. In reversing, the Appellate Division rejected the prosecution’s argument that the evidence had not been introduced for its truth but only to explain the nature of the police investigation which the defense had challenged as sloppy. Claudia Trupp represented A.B. on appeal.
We join our community in expressing our deepest regret over the untimely passing of Charles “Chas” Ransom on October 22, 2017. Though paroled for less than three months after serving 33 years in prison, he already was a beloved member of the re-entry community. Having begun his advocacy work while incarcerated, Chas was involved in various projects, including founding the Lifers and Longtermers Organization at Otisville Correctional Facility. As the Lifers President, he coordinated their annual Parole Summit, from which launched the National Lawyers Guild’s Parole Preparation Project, where volunteers prepare incarcerated individuals serving life sentences for their upcoming Parole Board appearances. In recent weeks, he had gained employment at Appellate Advocates as a Re-entry Program Associate. During his brief time as a returning citizen, he quickly became an integral part of CAL’s re-entry services, serving as a mentor and source of inspiration.
On May 18, 2017, several current and former members of the CAL staff were featured as guest speakers at the Brooklyn Reentry Consortium, focusing on the specific challenges that persons convicted of sex offenses face upon release into the community. CAL's resident social worker Susannah Karlin and Senior Appellate Counsel Lauren Springer both had the opportunity to speak on their areas of expertise, as did former CAL staff attorney Jill Sanders. The consortium was cosponsored by CAL and organized in collaboration with the Kings County Reentry Task Force -- a joint venture between the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, the NYS Department of Corrections & Community Supervision, and the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services to provide support for certain adults transitioning from incarceration back into Brooklyn’s communities.
On March 1, 2017, CAL had the pleasure of hosting a fundraiser benefiting the Immigrant Defense Project. CAL's Robin Nichinsky and Mark Zeno were honored for their work representing immigrant clients seeking post-conviction relief in partnership with IDP. The event featured sales of artworks by the Brooklyn Waterfront Artist Collective, which are on rotational display in CAL's office space at 120 Wall Street. Many thanks to all who participated in making the evening such a success for IDP and the featured artists.
CAL is proud to announce that, on January 28, 2017, Attorney-in-Charge Robert S. Dean was named a Fellow of the New York Bar Foundation. Fellows are nominated by peers and recognized for distinguished achievement, dedication to the legal profession, and commitment to the organized bar and service to the public. As Emily F. Franchina, Chair of the Fellows, stated, "Being a Fellow of the New York Bar Foundation is an honor. Fellows represent one percent of the New York State Bar Association membership. Being nominated and elected is a notable achievement."
On August 15th, CAL welcomed Marianne Yang as a supervising attorney and co-director of the recently renamed Immigrant Justice Project, formerly known as the Padilla Project. Marianne brings a wealth of knowledge at the intersection of immigration and criminal law from her experience at IDP and Brooklyn Defender Services. She looks forward to working with fellow project co-director Robin Nichinsky on expanding the breadth and depth of CAL's post-conviction advocacy for clients facing immigration consequences.
In July, CAL welcomed both John Santoro and Maya Hart as new Client Advocates. Maya graduated from Williams College in June and John graduated from Columbia University in May. They will be joining current Client Advocate Erika Parry in the north wing of the office, and they look forward to supporting CAL's appellate work as well as enchancing our mission of holistic advocacy and client services.
On June 11, 2015, CAL's social worker, Susannah Karlin, and CAL SORA specialist Jill Sanders, did a presentation at the bi-monthly meeting of the Bronx Re-entry Task Force. Their presentation dealt with sex offender registration and the challenges these persons face when re-entering their communities. After a 10 minute presentation, Susannah and Jill fielded nearly an hour of questions about the ins-and-outs of the sex offender registration process, how sex offender residency restrictions effect communities, and how to dispel the myths surrounding “stranger danger” and the rates of sexual recidivism. The presentation helped give members of the re-entry community important information about the topics discussed.
On November 14, 2014, in Washington D.C., the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) honored Claudia Trupp as the winner of the Reginald Heber Smith Award. The “Reggie” celebrates outstanding achievements and dedicated services of an attorney for contributions made while employed by an organization providing indigent defense services or civil legal services. To receive the Reggie, an attorney must have “significantly advanced the cause of equal justice for individual clients or low-income communities.” The attorney also must be known to provide “extraordinary and successful” legal advocacy on behalf of clients who could not otherwise afford counsel.
On September 15, 2014, Mark Zeno, CAL's Assistant-Attorney-in-Charge, received the New York County Lawyers' Association 2014 Public Service Award. New York City Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter presented the award and delivered the keynote address.
On January 24, 2013, CAL Attorney-in-Charge Robert S. Dean received the New York State Bar Association's 2012 award for Outstanding Appellate Practitioner. The award was established in 2003, to recognize "outstanding advocacy, protection of due process and the public welfare, and the integrity of the judicial system."
CAL Senior Supervising Attorney Abigail Everett was chosen to receive New York County Lawyers' Association 2012 Public Service Award. United States Attorney for the Southern District, Preeta Bharara, presented the award at the September 12, 2012 ceremony.
See the shout-out to CAL in the first report issued by the National Registry of Exonerations in the United States 1989-2012, a joint project of the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University Law School. The report details the 873 individual exonerations in the United States from January 1989 through February 2012. CAL's Justice First Project provided statistics to Professor Sam Gross on its cases over the course of a number of years.