Case Summaries – Fourth Department Decisions Released on November 10, 2016
Criminal Case Summaries:
- People v Bailey (KA 15-02068) – 4AD affirms the lower court’s order, which granted D’s CPL 440.10 motion to vacate the judgement based on newly discovered evidence. D was convicted of second-degree murder in connection with the death of a toddler who was in D’s care. The evidence at trial showed that the death could have only been the result of shaken baby syndrome, and not a short-distance fall from a chair. The lower court granted a new trial after D presented evidence of medical and scientific advances, which established that the toddler’s injuries could have in fact been caused by a short-distance fall. 4AD rejects the prosecutor’s claims that the evidence was not newly discovered and would not change the result at a new trial. 4AD explains that advances in science and medicine can constitute newly discovered evidence. And here, since D’s trial, a significant and legitimate debate has developed in the medical community about whether toddlers can be fatally injured by shaking alone, and whether other causes of injury can mimic the symptoms traditionally associated with shaken baby syndrome. Had this information been presented to the jury, the verdict probably would have been different.
- People v Buza (KA 15-00038) – 4AD, in a 3 to 2 decision, reverses D’s conviction because the lower court erred in denying the motion to preclude a statement D made to police, on the ground that the prosecutor failed to give notice pursuant to CPL 710.30. The prosecutor served a CPL 710.30 notice that referenced a statement D made to police deputies, that a room in the house police were searching belonged to another person. The prosecutor failed to give notice, however, of a statement D made to a police investigator that one of the rooms in the house was his. The prosecutor was required to give notice of the latter statement because it did not constitute pedigree information, and in any case, was given under circumstances where an incriminating response was likely. 4AD concludes that the statement to the investigator should not have been admitted at trial, and the error was not harmless.
- The dissent (Peradotto, J.P. and Scudder, J.) agrees that the statement should have been precluded but would find that the error is harmless. The dissent explains that D returned to the subject house with police after they found him at a nearby ski resort, D gave police permission to search the house, and signed a written consent-to-search form. Those things established that D lived in the house, and thus constructively possessed the contraband found inside.
- People v DeJesus (KA 14-01709) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction, following a guilty plea, because the plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. 4AD explains that the codefendant’s plea allocution, which was intertwined with D’s allocution, raised a potentially viable affirmative defense—i.e., that the gun used during the crime was unloaded. Under those circumstances, the trial court had a duty to further inquire whether D was aware of the defense and was knowingly and voluntarily waiving it. Because the court failed to ensure that D was making an informed decision to waive the affirmative defense, the guilty plea was invalid.
- People v Gardner (KA 13-00172) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction because the lower court conducted a Sandoval hearing without D being present. 4AD explains that the error was not cured when the lower court repeated its Sandoval ruling the next day when D was present in court. Mere repetition of what has already been determined in a defendant’s absence is not sufficient compliance with the Sandoval rule. Because D was convicted only of a lesser included offense, 4AD dismisses the indictment without prejudice to the prosecutor to file any appropriate charge.
- People v Williams (KA 14-00717) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction, finding that the guilty plea was coerced by the lower court. During discussions about the plea offer, the lower court told D that if he were convicted of first-degree manslaughter at trial, he would not get a sentence any better than 25 years. 4AD finds that the court’s statement did not amount to a description of the potential sentences, but instead constituted impermissible coercion.
Family Law Case Summaries:
- Matter of Jaime J. (CAF 16-00175) – In this case of first impression, 4AD, in a 3 to 2 decision, holds that a Family Court retains subject matter jurisdiction to conduct a permanency hearing under article 10-A of the Family Court Act even after a neglect petition filed under article 10 is dismissed following a fact-finding hearing. This case began when the lower court ordered DSS to temporary remove the child from the mother’s care pursuant to FCA § 1022. DSS then filed a neglect petition, alleging lack of housing and the mother’s inability to care for her own medical needs. At a permanency hearing, the court granted DSS’s application for continued placement, which was to continue until the completion of the next permanency hearing or further order from the court. The neglect petition was then dismissed after the lower found that DSS failed to prove its case at a fact-finding hearing. Thereafter, the lower court denied the mother’s motion to dismiss the permanency petition and to vacate the temporary order placing the child with DSS. The mother argued on appeal that the lower court did not have subject matter jurisdiction to conduct a permanency hearing following dismissal of the neglect petition. 4AD rejects the argument, finding that the statutory language in article 10-A provides the court with subject matter jurisdiction so long as the child remains in placement. The decision to terminate a placement is based on proof adduced at a permanency planning hearing, and article 10-A does not contain a provision stating that placement must cease upon dismissal of a neglect petition.
- The dissent (Whalen, P.J. and Smith, J.) would find that once a court finds that abuse or neglect has not been established, it no longer retains jurisdiction to block, delay, or impose conditions on the return of a child. The dissent disagrees with the majority that the enactment of article 10-A abrogated settled law in this respect. Although the language of article 10-A appears to confer continuing jurisdiction on a Family Court, giving effect to that language would render the statute unconstitutional, because it would sanction the use of a temporary order issued in an ex parte proceeding as the jurisdictional predicate for DSS’s ongoing, open-ended intervention in the child-parent relationship, even after a neglect petition is dismissed on the merits.
- Matter of Nickie M.A. (CAF 14-01867) – In this article 10 matter, 4AD affirms the lower court’s order, which found that the father’s consent was not required before the subject children were adopted. 4AD explains that a child of unmarried parents may be adopted without the consent of the father, unless the father shows that he has maintained substantial contact with the child, as manifested by (1) payment of child support and (2) either monthly visitation or regular communication if visitation is not possible. Here, the father testified that he had been incarcerated for 2 years, had not provided financial support, and had not communicated with the children for 7 months. 4AD explains that the father’s incarceration did not excuse his failure to provide financial support absent a showing that he did not have adequate income or resources. It also did not excuse his failure to communicate. 4AD notes that the father’s claim that he sent letters to the children’s caseworker was not credited by the lower court, particularly in light of the caseworker’s own testimony.
- Matter of Chyreck v Smith (CAF 15-00282) – In this custody/visitation matter, 4AD affirms the lower court’s order granting primary physical custody to the father, and visitation to the mother. First, 4AD rejects the mother’s claim that the lower court failed to consider her allegations of domestic violence. Those allegations, and any impact on the children, were not proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Second, 4AD rejects the mother’s claim that the court erred in granting the father custody, because the father delegated his parental responsibility to the paternal grandmother as a result of his work schedule. Although custody options that allow for direct care by a parent rather than a third party are preferred, that circumstance is just one of the factors in the overall best interest of the child analysis. Here, the father assumed greater parental responsibility since the parties separated, the children emotionally benefited from the care provided by their grandparents, and the father’s work schedule could be altered as needed to handle the care of the children.