People v. Andrew Spencer


AD2 order dated August 30, 2011, affirming judgment of conviction. Decision below: 87 AD3d 751, 928 NYS2d 607. Ciparick, J., granted leave December 28, 2011.

ISSUES PRESENTED: (1) The trial court’s exclusion of proof concerning the complainant’s motive to fabricate an accusation against the defendant. (2) Judicial bias in conducting the trial

Issue: Whether evidence of defendant’s relationship with complainant was improperly excluded as collateral, and, if so, whether it was nonetheless harmless.

Held: Defendant’s effort to show that the complainant had a motive to frame him for weapons possession should not have been excluded as collateral, because (1) counsel had a good faith basis for presenting the evidence, and (2) "extrinsic proof tending to establish a reason to fabricate is never collateral and may not be excluded on that ground." Court concluded, however, that "given the overwhelming independent proof adduced at trial ... the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt."

CAL observes: Given the few facts provided, it cannot be determined whether the Court was correct that the error was harmless. But the Court failed to follow its own constitutional harmless-error protocol: Assessing whether the proof of guilt was overwhelming is only the first step in the analysis. If the Court determines that the evidence was overwhelming, it must then look to the excluded evidence and detemine whether, had it been admitted, "there is a reasonable possibility that the *** [error] might have contributed to the conviction." People v. Crimmins, 36 N.Y.2d 230, 240-42 (1975). Here, the Court never undertook the second step of its own test.