The People v. Doran Allen


Issue before the Court: Where the prosecution failed to obtain court authorization before re-presenting the case to a new grand jury and securing a separately indicted count of murder (in violation of Wilkins and Credle), was reversal the proper remedy on appeal where, at trial, the jury acquitted of the unauthorized murder count but convicted the defendant of manslaughter, a count in the first indictment.  


Held: Reversing the Appellate Division’s majority opinion and essentially agreeing with Justice Kahn’s dissent, the Court held that “spillover” analysis, and not “Mayo” analysis applied to determine whether appellant was prejudiced by the presence of the defective murder count in his trial.  In People v. Mayo, 48 N.Y.2d 245 (1979), the prosecution brought the defendant to trial a second time under the original indictment, which included a top count of robbery in the first degree, and included offenses, even though the court had found insufficient evidence of first-degree robbery at the close of the People’s case at the first trial.  Explaining its decision in Mayo, the Court stated that there, it had found that the retrial violated double jeopardy and that the second trial was a “nullity” which should never have occurred.  Under those circumstances, harmless error did not apply.  Spillover analysis — asking whether the presence of the tainted count that should have been dismissed led to the admission of otherwise inadmissible or prejudicial evidence — was the appropriate rubric here, which involved no double jeopardy or preserved constitutional claim. The Court rejected appellant’s arguments that the defense was impacted by the presence of the murder count, and concluded that there was “no reasonably possibility that the presence of the murder count during trial influenced the jury’s decision to convict defendant on the manslaughter count in any meaningful way.”  Judge Rivera concurred in the “spillover” analysis but disagreed with the Court’s Credle discussion, in which it found that dismissal of the murder count was required because there was at least “a mere possibility of prejudice” from the failure to obtain court permission.  Judge Rivera did not agree that prejudice played any part in the analysis. 


CAL Observes: Even the judges who more reliably see things our way signed on to this restrictive harm analysis. Although this case is something of a one-off, it does not bode well in terms of the Court’s receptiveness to alternative “harm” analyses and spillover arguemnts generally. The Court, for example, dismissed the factual arguments appellant had made to show how the defense was affected by the presence of the murder count, where the Appellate Division majority, by contrast (hardly a friendly court), had no problem concluding that even if spillover applied, “[d]efense counsel’s strategy was no doubt affected by the need to present an effective defense to the more serious charge”