Justia New York Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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In this criminal proceeding, the Court of Appeals held that the Appellate Division correctly concluded that the sentencing court erred in unsealing the court record of the proceeding in which Defendant was acquitted but erred in concluding that Defendant was not entitled to a remedy for the trial court's violation of N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law 160.50, holding that the sentence should be vacated. Defendant pleaded guilty to criminal possession of a controlled substance. Before sentencing, Defendant was prosecuted for a crime he allegedly committed after entering his plea. The jury acquitted Defendant of the new charge, and the official record was sealed. In sentencing Defendant for his possession charge, the court unsealed the records in the prior criminal action. Based in part on Defendant's trial testimony in the sealed proceeding, the court deviated upward from the court's promised sentence. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed in part, holding (1) the trial court erred in unsealing the records of the proceeding terminated by acquittal and improperly considered Defendant's trial testimony in deciding not to adhere to the promised sentence; and (2) because the court's sentence was based on that testimony, the proper remedy was to remit for resentencing without reference to the contents of the sealed records. View "People v. Anonymous" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division affirming the judgment of Supreme Court denying Defendant's motion to set aside his sentence of six months of incarceration, imposed upon his guilty plea to third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, on the ground that the sentence was illegally lenient, holding that the denial of Defendant's motion was not reviewable. Over a fifteen-year period, Defendant committed numerous felonies, some of them violent, yet avoided enhanced sentences. In 1997, Defendant was sentenced as a persistent violent felony offender based upon his criminal convictions in 1988 and 1991. In 2015, Defendant collaterally moved to set aside his 1988 sentence of six months of incarceration under N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law 440.20 on the ground that the sentence was illegally lenient. Supreme Court denied the motion. The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that because Defendant was not adversely affected by the error in sentencing on the 1988 conviction, his motion must be rejected without consideration of its merits. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that when a defendant moves to vacate a sentence on the ground that it is illegally lenient, denial of the motion is not reviewable because any purported error in the proceedings has not adversely affected the defendant. View "People v. Francis" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court denying Defendant's motion to suppress evidence following the court's granting permission to the People to reopen the hearing and present additional testimony after the People had rested but before the court rendered a decision, holding that Supreme Court had, and did not abuse, the discretion to reopen the suppression hearing. Defendant was charged with attempted robbery and assault. Defendant moved to suppress the identification made by the victim on the night of the assault, arguing that the identification procedures had been unduly suggestive and that his initial detention had been without reasonable suspicion. A hearing was held. After the People rested but before the court rendered a decision the People were granted permission to reopen the hearing and present additional testimony. Supreme Court subsequently denied Defendant's suppression motion, and Defendant was convicted. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the hearing court's reopening was a permissible exercise of its discretion. View "People v. Cook" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals affirmed the opinion of the Appellate Division affirming Defendant's conviction of first-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument and seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, holding that there was legally sufficient evidence of Defendant's "intent to defraud, deceive or injury another" within the meaning of N.Y. Penal Law 170.30. On appeal, the Appellate Division held that the jury could reasonably have inferred from the evidence that Defendant knowingly possessed counterfeit money with fraudulent intent. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) a rational jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant intended to pass the counterfeit bills in his possession and thereby defraud others; (2) Defendant's objections to the admission of certain testimony were unpreserved; and (3) the arresting officer had reasonable suspicion to justify the original stop of Defendant. View "People v. Britt" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgments of the trial court in both of these cases, holding that both courts erred by reversing, after summations, their prior rulings on Defendants' requests to charge the jury, but these errors did not mandate reversal. The appellate courts affirmed Defendants' convictions on both cases at issue on appeal, ruling that both lower courts erred by failing to charge the jury in accordance with the courts' pre-summation rulings on Defendants' charging requests but that the error was harmless. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) a trial court's error in reversing a prior charging decision after summations have been completed is subject to harmless error analysis; and (2) where the evidence of guilt in both cases was overwhelming, the error in each case was harmless. View "People v. Mairena" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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In these three consolidated appeals the Court of Appeals addressed the issue of imprecise language in Defendants' written waivers of the right to appeal that mischaracterized the scope of the appellate rights waived as a condition of the plea bargains, adhering to well-established precedent in affirming in one case and reversing in other two cases. At issue was whether, under the circumstance of each of the three cases, the mischaracterizations impacted the knowing and voluntary nature of the three appeal waivers before the Court. The Court of Appeals (1) affirmed in one case, holding that the appeal waiver was knowingly and voluntarily entered; and (2) reversed in the other two cases, holding that the appeal waivers were involuntarily made and thus not enforceable. View "People v. Thomas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the Appellate Division rejecting Defendant's challenges to his conviction of two counts of manslaughter in the second degree, holding that Defendant's conduct may be prosecuted as a homicide offense and that the conviction was supported by legally sufficient evidence. Two of Defendant's patients died of overdoses caused by a combination of oxycodone and alprazolam shortly after filling prescriptions for the drugs issued by Defendant. Defendant was convicted of two counts of manslaughter in the second degree and related offenses. On appeal, Defendant argued, among other things, that he could not be convicted of any homicide offense for providing controlled substances that result in an overdose death. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) there is no basis to conclude that the legislature intended to exclude from the ambit of homicide statutes the prosecution of a defendant who engages, with the requisite mens rea, in conduct through the provision of dangerous drugs that directly causes a person's death; and (2) sufficient evidence supported the conviction. View "People v. Li" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division affirming Defendant's conviction, holding that the trial court abused its discretion as a matter of law and committed reversible error when it refused to allow Defendant to cross-examine two police officers in two specific areas involving officer dishonesty, holding that a law enforcement witness may be subject to cross-examination with respect to a its of dishonesty not proven at trial. In an shooting incident during which no one was injured two police officers identified the shooter as Defendant. At trial, the People's case rested almost entirely on the police officers' identification of Defendant as the shooter. Defendant was convicted of attempted murder in the second degree and related firearm counts. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) a defendant should be permitted to explore specific allegations of wrongdoing relevant to the credibility of a law enforcement witness, and law enforcement witnesses should be treated in the same manner as any other witness for purposes of cross-examination; and (2) Defendant was denied a fair trial inasmuch as the trial court refused to allow him to explore misstatements one of the officers made to a federal prosecutor. View "People v. Rouse" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division granting a writ of habeas corpus, holding that Supreme Court did not abuse its discretion by disapproving an insurance company bail bond package assembled by a bail bond company in conjunction with Defendant's family and friends. Supreme Court disapproved the bond at issue when exercising its review under N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law 520.30(1), concluding that the pledged collateral was "virtually nonexistent" and provided Defendant "with no incentive to return to court." Relator commenced this N.Y. C.P.L.R. 70 habeas corpus proceeding on Defendant's behalf. The Appellate Division sustained the writ and directed that Defendant be released upon his posting of an insurance company bail bond in the aggregate sum of $500,000, ruling that Supreme Court erred in disapproving the bail. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) section 520.30(1) permits a court to determine whether the collateral securing the insurance company bail bond is so deficient that it fails to ensure the defendant's return to court in contravention of public policy; and (2) Supreme Court correctly interpreted the statute and did not abuse its discretion when it disapproved the bail package on public policy grounds. View "People ex rel. Prieston v. Nassau County Sheriff's Department" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law
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The Court of Appeals affirmed the conclusion of the Appellate Division that the trial court abused its discretion by denying Defendant's N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law 330.30 motion to set aside the verdict against him based on juror misconduct, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Defendant was entitled to a new trial. Defendant was convicted by a jury of murder and tampering with physical evidence. During the trial, one of the jurors sent and received hundreds of text messages about the case, accessed local media websites that were covering the trial, and lied under oath to the court to hide her misconduct. Defendant moved to set aside the verdict based on juror misconduct. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the juror's misconduct did not render the trial unfair. The Appellate Division reversed and granted a new trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the scope and egregiousness of the deception that occurred in this case required reversal of the conviction and a new trial. View "People v. Neulander" on Justia Law