Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Insufficient Specificity of Insufficiency of Proof

Ever since the Court in People v Gray (86 NY2d 10) made clear that a general motion for a trial order of dismissal (T.O.D.) which fails to specify the alleged insufficiency of proof does not preserve the claim that the proof was insufficient counsel and courts have struggled with the questions as what wording is needed in a T.O.D. motion. In depraved murder cases in which the defendant claims that the evidence shows intentional conduct and is, thus, insufficient as to reckless or depraved indifference, the question is what language is required in a T.O.D. motion to raise and preserve the claim.

In People v Hawkins 2008 NY Slip Op 01238 [2/8/08] the Court divided over whether a T.O.D motion was sufficiently specific to preserve the legal insufficiency where the proof was that the defendant acted intentionally, and not recklessly, in killing the decedent.

The majority held that
Defendant failed to preserve for our review his contention that the evidence is legally insufficient to support the conviction of depraved indifference murder on the ground that the evidence established an intentional murder and no other crime. In support of his motion for a trial order of dismissal of that count at the close of the People's case, defendant contended "that the People . . . failed to prove a prima facie case of [d]epraved [i]ndifference [m]urder" and that, "[n]ot only [did] they fail to prove a prima facie case that [defendant] was the perpetrator of the homicide[,] . . . they failed to prove that [defendant] acted with [d]epraved [i]ndifference." It is well established that, "even where a motion to dismiss for insufficient evidence [is] made, the preservation requirement compels that the argument be specifically directed' at the alleged error" (People v Gray, 86 NY2d 10, 19, citing People v Cona, 49 NY2d 26, 33 n 2; see also People v Montes, 225 AD2d 1052, lv denied 88 NY2d 882). It is unclear whether defendant's motion for a trial order of dismissal was directed at the alleged legal insufficiency of the evidence of recklessness or at the depraved indifference factual setting in which the murder took place. In either event, defendant failed to preserve for our review his present contention that the evidence is legally insufficient to support the conviction of depraved indifference murder.

By contrast, the two dissenting Justices would have held the motion sufficient to preserve the issue because
in addition to raising the general ground that the People failed to prove "a prima facie case of depraved indifference murder," defendant moved for a trial order of dismissal on the grounds that the People failed to prove that he was the perpetrator of the murder and failed to prove that the perpetrator "acted with [d]epraved [i]ndifference." It of course is assumed that Supreme Court was aware of the elements of depraved indifference murder and thus would have recognized that the motion was addressed to the legal insufficiency of the evidence with respect to the state of mind and nature of the conduct of the perpetrator. Thus, in our view, defendant satisfied the requirement set forth by the Court of Appeals in People v Gray (86 NY2d 10, 19), i.e., that his argument be "specifically directed' at the alleged error," thereby bringing to the attention of the court his contention that the People failed to prove essential elements of the crime of depraved indifference murder (see id.; cf. Finger, 95 NY2d at 895; People v Acevedo, 44 AD3d 168, 172, lv denied 9 NY3d 1004).

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