Case Summaries – Fourth Department Decisions Released on March 23, 2018

Published on April 2, 2018 1:52 pm by Nate Riley in Appeals Blog

Criminal Case Summaries:

People v Anderson (KA 14-00474) – In a 3-2 decision, 4AD affirms D’s murder conviction. Complainant was shot and killed in 2005 and while police questioned D, no arrest was made at that time. In 2011, while serving time on unrelated charges, D confessed both to an informant-inmate (who later agreed to tape record their conversations) and in a letter to his girlfriend. Both the tape recordings and letter were admitted at trial. In addition to containing admissions to the 2005 murder, they contained statements (1) about D’s participation in at least one other, unrelated shooting, (2) that D might “kill somebody” in prison, (3) D’s knowledgeable discussion of guns other than the gun used in this murder, and (4) D’s nickname of “Shotz.” D alleged ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to object to the admission of such prejudicial propensity evidence, but 4AD rejected that contention. 4AD holds that because counsel chose to portray the statements as D merely “talking tough” and “puffing,” allowing those statements in evidence constituted a strategic judgment of counsel to bolster that theory. Therefore, “[a]lthough the evidence in question would have been excludable upon a motion, we conclude that the evidence was consistent with the defense strategy.”

Justices Lindley and Troutman dissent, and find that the unpreserved error in admitting propensity evidence should be reviewed in the interest of justice, or, alternatively, that the failure to object constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The dissent states it had “no doubt” that the lower court would have “committed reversible error” had it admitted the foregoing Molineux evidence over defense objection. Thus, they would review the error in the interest of justice. As for the effectiveness of trial counsel, the dissent states that the People’s brief did not argue that defense counsel engaged in a strategic decision not to challenge the Molineux evidence. Justices Lindley and Troutman find “defense counsel’s belated attempt to address highly prejudicial propensity evidence that was erroneously admitted at an earlier stage of trial does not indicate that it had been his strategy all along.” They would nevertheless find that failing to object to such prejudicial Molineux evidence “was not a reasonable strategy” and trial counsel therefore had “no legitimate excuse” for failing to object.

People v Carey (KA 15-01656) – 4AD modifies the judgment by reversing D’s conviction for petit larceny as against the weight of the evidence and dismissing that count of the indictment.  The People pursued a theory of larceny by trick. D argued that (1) the lower court erred with respect to its jury instructions on larceny by trick, and (2) the evidence was legally insufficient to support the larceny conviction. 4AD holds both arguments unpreserved, but finds the verdict “contrary to the weight of the evidence with respect to whether defendant used some trick or artifice to obtain property from the victim.”

People v Cator (KA 17-01130) – In this appeal by the People, 4AD affirms the lower court’s order granting suppression of D’s failed field sobriety tests, blood draw results, and statements to police. D faced DWI and endangering the welfare of a child charges. Upon arriving at D’s home for an unrelated matter, police saw a woman yelling hysterically and pointing at a car pulling out of a driveway. Without speaking to the woman, the police pulled over the vehicle. 4AD affirms suppression because police lacked reasonable suspicion of any crime and had not witnessed any traffic violation prior to pulling over D.

People v Daniels (KA 16-01377) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction upon a guilty plea to criminal possession of a controlled substance in the third degree. During his plea colloquy, D denied selling cocaine, then admitted he sold it, and finally stated he pleaded guilty only because of the “corruption and maliciousness” involved in his prosecution. Despite failing to preserve the issue through a post-allocution motion to withdraw his guilty plea, 4AD rules that the plea colloquy casts significant doubt as to D’s guilt or otherwise calls into question the voluntariness of his plea. The lower court erred by failing to conduct some further inquiry into D’s statement that he believed he had been compelled to plead guilty. 4AD remits the matter for further proceedings on the indictment.

People v Miller (KA 16-01502) – In this 3 to 2 decision, 4AD affirms D’s conviction for second-degree burglary, petit larceny, and first-degree criminal contempt. As to the burglary and petit larceny charges, the majority explains that the evidence, including the recording of a 911 call made by the complainant, D’s ex-girlfriend, and the arresting officer’s body camera footage, establishes that D unlawfully entered the complainant’s residence with the intent to steal her dogs.

Justices Carni and DeJoseph dissent and would modify the judgment by reversing D’s convictions for second-degree burglary and petit larceny, and dismissing those counts of the indictment. The dissent finds that D had at least a good faith basis for claiming an ownership interest in the dogs despite the fact that they were licensed in the complainant’s name. The dissent highlights that complainant conceded she was a “joint owner” of the dogs and that she and D split the costs associated with the dogs. The dissent further notes that D, with the consent of complainant, commonly used the window to enter the house and gain access to the dogs, and that on the day in question, it appears that D intended to take the dogs for a walk and then return them.

People v Reed (KA 16-01139) – 4AD reverses an order denying D’s CPL 440.10 motion and remits the matter for a hearing pursuant to CPL 440.30 (5). Supreme Court denied D’s motion because the grounds raised had either been decided in a prior 440 motion or could have been raised in that prior motion. 4AD now exercises its discretion to reach the merits. 4AD concludes that the court erred in denying D’s motion without a hearing because D submitted credible documentary evidence establishing that the testifying officer’s testimony at the suppression hearing was false and that the prosecutor knew or should have known that the testimony was false, and that the prosecutor failed to disclose material, exculpatory evidence.

People v Wilson (KA 15-00928 and KA 16-00792) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction and vacates his plea because the court lacked authority to amend a previously dismissed count and elicit D’s plea thereto. 4AD notes that a valid and sufficient accusatory instrument is a nonwaivable jurisdictional prerequisite to a criminal prosecution.

People v Wilson (KA 16-01947) – 4AD holds the case and remits the matter to Seneca County Court for a hearing on D’s motion to withdraw his plea. D’s conviction arises from a fatal motor vehicle accident where D’s pickup truck collided with a motorcycle, killing both the driver and passenger. D sought to withdraw his plea on the grounds that the People violated their Brady obligation by failing to disclose the autopsy and toxicology reports of the motorcycle operator. 4AD rejects the People’s contention that D forfeited his right to raise the alleged Brady violation by pleading guilty. 4AD states that any prior decisions holding that a defendant, by pleading guilty, forfeits the right to raise an alleged Brady violation are not to be followed. 4AD concludes that evidence of the motorcycle operator’s intoxication is relevant with respect to the cause of the fatal accident and D’s culpability, and that the court should not have summarily determined whether and to what extent the exculpatory information, if disclosed, would have affected D’s decision to plead guilty.

People v Zirbel (KA 16-02331) – 4AD vacates D’s sentence and remits the matter to County Court for resentencing. D pled guilty to DWI and first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and was sentenced to 1 1/3 to 4 years imprisonment, with five years of probation. County Court imposed the condition of an ignition interlock device on the probation part of the sentence. After serving the full four-year sentence, D violated his probation twice. After the second violation, County Court sentenced D to 1 1/3 to 7 years’ imprisonment, with five years of probation. 4AD vacates the sentence, concluding that the court lacked the authority to sentence D to more prison time after his initial term of imprisonment was completed.

 

Family Law Case Summaries:

Kelley v Fifield (CAF 16-02241) – In this Article 6 proceeding, 4AD reinstates the father’s dismissed petition and remits for a hearing. Family Court denied an incarcerated father’s petition seeking modification of a prior custody and visitation order agreeing to supervised visitation “as the parties can mutually agree.” The father alleged that he had been denied any contact with the child and wanted supervised visitation with the child to reconnect. Family Court dismissed the petition without prejudice to filing an enforcement petition, apparently taking the view that modification was not available in these circumstances. 4AD reverses and rules that where the parties enter into an order agreeing to visitation as they “may mutually agree,” the party unable to obtain visitation may file a petition seeking “to enforce or modify the order.”

Reynolds v Evans (CAF 17-00990) – In this Article 4 proceeding, 4AD holds that the Support Magistrate erred in dismissing the father’s petition based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and that the court further erred in denying his objections to the Support Magistrate’s order. The father and respondent mother previously resided in New Jersey with the child and a New Jersey court issued a child support order in 2001. The mother and child later relocated to Tennessee and the father relocated to New York. In 2004, the New Jersey child support order was registered in New York for purposes of enforcement. The father filed the instant petition in New York seeking a downward modification of his child support obligation. 4AD concludes that the father could properly bring this modification petition in New York under the Full Faith and Credit for Child Support Orders Act (FFCCSOA). 4AD finds that the FFCCSOA preempts the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, under which the father could not properly bring the modification petition, because the FFCCSOA “is so comprehensive in scope that it is inferable that Congress intended to fully occupy the field of its subject matter.” Thus, 4AD reinstates the petition and remits the matter to Family Court.

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