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Case Summaries – Fourth Department Decisions Released on February 9, 2018

Published on February 20, 2018 6:02 pm by Sara Goldfarb in Appeals Blog

Criminal Case Summaries 

People v Akinlawon (KA 14-00562) – 4AD affirms D’s conviction of first-degree robbery. 4AD explains that contrary to D’s argument, the lower court did not err in denying his request to charge the jury on the statutory affirmative defense to first-degree robbery which a defendant is entitled to if the object displayed “was not a loaded weapon from which a shot, readily capable of producing death or other serious physical injury, could be discharged.” 4AD clarifies that a BB gun qualifies as a “weapon which discharge[s] a shot . . . readily capable of producing serious physical injury.” Thus, when the object displayed is a BB gun, “the affirmative defense comes into play only when it is demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that the [BB] gun was unloaded or inoperable.” Here, there was no reasonable interpretation that the BB gun was unloaded or inoperable and so 4AD finds that the lower court properly denied D’s request.

 People v Barnett (KA 17-01314) – In this appeal by the prosecution, 4AD reverses the lower court’s order granting D’s motion to dismiss the superseding indictment on statutory speedy trial grounds. D was originally indicted for second-degree criminal possession of a weapon (CPW). Following review of the grand jury minutes, the lower court dismissed the indictment and later that same day, the People filed a superseding indictment charging D with third-degree CPW. At issue is a 22-day period of time that was charged to the People after their inability to proceed on the third day of D’s suppression hearing because of the temporary unavailability of their witness. The People asked the court for a one-day continuance, but the court urged the parties to “work out a middle ground” and directed them to return with an update three weeks later. When the parties returned, D rejected the plea offer and the court rescheduled the continuation of the hearing. 4AD finds that the lower court erred in charging this 22-day period to the People because their witness’s one-day unavailability while her father was undergoing heart surgery is an excludable delay that was “occasioned by exceptional circumstances.” Moreover, the People had only requested a one-day adjournment and “any period of an adjournment in excess of that actually requested by the People is excluded.” Accordingly, the matter is remitted for further proceedings on the superseding indictment.

People v Chase (KA 14-01136) – 4AD, in a 3 to 2 decision, reverses D’s conviction for endangering the welfare of a child (EWAC), dismisses that count of the indictment, and affirms the judgement as modified. D was convicted of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence after she killed her child’s father and drove the body to her mother’s house where she cremated the body and disposed of the remains. 4AD finds that D’s conviction of EWAC is not based on legally sufficient evidence because the People failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that D’s child’s riding in the car with the decedent’s body was likely to result in harm to the physical, mental, or moral welfare of the child. Specifically, the People presented no evidence that the child was aware of the decedent’s body in the car or that the child was upset or bothered by any smells or sights in the car or at his grandmother’s house.

Justices Whalen and Winslow dissent. The dissent would affirm the judgement in its entirety because the evidence at trial was legally sufficient to support D’s conviction of EWAC. As the dissent explains, the jurors, “drawing upon their common human experience and commonsense understanding of the nature of children,” could reasonably conclude that transporting a four-year-old child in a car with the body of the severely decomposed, dismembered corpse of the man the child knew to be his father was “likely to have caused the child harm, and that defendant knew that her [actions] were likely to cause the child to suffer harm.”

People v Dennis (KA 17-01489 and 16-00621) – In this appeal by the prosecution, 4AD reverses the lower court’s order granting D’s motion to dismiss counts one, two, and four of the indictment. D and co-D struggled with four Onondaga Community College campus security officers who tried to arrest them for disorderly conduct. During testimony before the Grand Jury, one of the officers was asked whether he was designated as a peace officer and he responded in the affirmative. 4AD finds that the lower court erred in ruling that there was insufficient evidence before the grand jury to find that any of the officers was in fact designated a peace officer, an element of each of the counts dismissed by the lower court. 4AD agrees with the People that the grand jury testimony of the injured officer, who testified that he was an Onondaga Community College campus security officer designated as a peace officer, is legally sufficient to establish that he was a peace officer. Accordingly, the matter is remitted for further proceedings on the indictment.

 People v Hamn (KA 14-01699) – 4AD vacates D’s sentence and remits the matter for further proceedings. 4AD finds that D was improperly sentenced as a second felony offender because “under New York’s strict equivalency standard for convictions rendered in other jurisdictions, a federal conviction for conspiracy to commit a drug crime may not serve as a predicate felony for sentencing purposes.” Accordingly, the matter is remitted so D can be resentenced as a nonpredicate felon.

People v Hobbs (KA 17-00214 and 17-00213) – 4AD vacates D’s sentence and remits the matter for further proceedings. D pled guilty to multiple counts of second-and third-degree burglary and asked the court to grant him youthful offender (YO) status. 4AD finds that the lower court erred in denying D’s request because the record does not establish that it did so “on any basis other than that it was not part of the agreed-upon sentence.” 4AD explains that CPL 720.20 (1) mandates “that there be a youthful offender determination in every case where the defendant is eligible, even where the defendant . . . agrees to forgo it as part of a plea bargain.”

Family Law Case Summaries 

In the Matter of Ellie Jo L.H. (CAF 16-02244) – In this article 10 proceeding, 4AD reverses an order determining that respondent mother neglected her child. 4AD finds that the AFC failed to meet her burden of establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the “child’s physical, mental or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired” as a consequence of the mother’s failure to exercise a minimum degree of care. Although the mother’s conduct was “troubling at times,” 4AD ultimately determines that that there is no indication on the record that the child was impaired or in imminent danger of impairment as a result of any acts committed by the mother. Accordingly, 4AD reverses the order and dismisses the petition.

Saldato v Feketa (CAF 16-01431) – In this child support matter, 4AD finds that the lower court erred in refusing to allow the parties to enter into a settlement agreement. Respondent father was $26,000 in arrears on child support. At the confirmation hearing, all parties agreed to a settlement whereby the father would make a single lump sum payment of $3,000, and then repay the balance in monthly installments. The lower court rejected the settlement, and ordered the father incarcerated for six months. In reversing the order, 4AD explains that “[s]tipulations of settlement are favored by the courts and not lightly cast aside” and “open court stipulations are especially favored by the courts inasmuch as they promote efficient dispute resolution, timely management of court calendars, and the ‘integrity of the litigation process.’” 4AD remits the matter to Family Court for further proceedings.


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