People v. Romualdo
Issue Presented: Is a weight-of-the-evidence reversal in the Appellate Division safe from this Court of Appeals?
A woman was found dead in the woods near the defendant’s home. She was the victim of a sexual assault, and the defendant’s semen was found inside her. He gave a false statement to police, denying that he knew her or had sex with her. On appeal, defense counsel somehow convinced the Second Department to rule, over dissent, that the evidence was insufficient, and that, for the “same reasons,” the verdict was against the weight of the evidence.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding the evidence sufficient when considering reasonable inferences in the People’s favor. Since the Appellate Division’s weight holding was grounded on the “same reasons” as its sufficiency holding, the weight holding must also have been erroneous as a matter of law. The Court remitted to the Appellate Division so it could redo its weight analysis.
While obviously a bad outcome for the defendant, this case serves as a useful reminder that the Court of Appeals can review intermediate appellate courts’ weight determinations when they apply an incorrect legal principle (or fail to consider the issue at all). It will be interesting to see if, upon remittal, the Second Department majority sticks to its guns and finds “other reasons” to conclude that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence.