The People v. Damian Jones
Issue before the Court: Whether, in a prosecution against the defendant for enterprise corruption, the prosecution presented sufficient evidence that defendant had knowledge of the existence of a criminal enterprise and intended to participate in its affairs?
Held: No. Although the defendant participated in three requisite criminal acts, critical trial evidence showed that the defendant was “isolated from — rather than employed by or associated with — the enterprise, and that defendant acted independently on his own behalf, with the singular purpose of serving his own interests.” Accordingly, the prosecution failed to present legally sufficient evidence to satisfy the mens rea element of enterprise corruption. Concurring, Justice Rivera agreed that the People failed to establish sufficient evidence of the defendant’s mens rea, but reached that conclusion “for the more fundamental reason that defendant cannot have knowledge of a nonexistent criminal enterprise.”
CAL Observes: This was a unanimous and brief memorandum (in result) decision. The big-ticket item here is Judge Rivera’s informative 24-page concurrence that provides a useful primer on New York’s “Baby RICO” statute, called the Organized Crime Control Act. Penal Law § 460.20 is the class B felony of enterprise corruption, created under the OCCA. The OCCA is aimed at reaching the higher-ups who run the organized entity. These actors are otherwise difficult to prosecute under existing laws because they are insulated by the complex organizational structure they’ve created to carry out the crimes. Legitimate businesses are often infiltrated for this purpose. Here, the defendant was prosecuted in a purported motorcycle theft, where another individual would distribute the cycles defendant stole. Although the sales followed a typical pattern, the defendant stole the bikes without direction from a superior, and there was no hierarchy of authority or a system of ascending commands that directed and approved of its members’ actions.