Friday, January 1, 2010

Weight, weight, don't tell me

The recent packet of Fourth Department decisions (12/30/09) includes a number of appeals arguing (unsuccessfully, in every case but one) that the defendant's conviction was not supported by the weight of credible evidence, giving the court an opportunity to restate the applicable standard for review of such claims.

In People v. Goff, the only case where defendant obtained relief on a weight of credible evidence claim this time around (likely because the testimony of the complainant's mother proved that defendant could not have committed the offense when the complainant claimed he did), although the defendant failed to preserve his claim that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the convictions under two counts of the indictment, the court reversed, reasoning that:

"[v]iewing the evidence in light of the elements of those counts as charged to the jury (see People v Danielson, 9 NY3d 342, 349), we agree with defendant, however, that the verdict with respect to both of those counts is against the weight of the evidence (see generally People v Bleakley, 69 NY2d 490, 495), and we therefore modify the judgment accordingly. Where, as here, a different finding from that of the jury would not have been unreasonable, we must 'weigh the relative probative force of conflicting testimony and the relative strength of conflicting inferences that may be drawn from that testimony' and, if we conclude that the trier of fact failed to give the evidence the weight it should be accorded, we may set aside the verdict (id.)."

The court provided another iteration of the same standard in People v. Kalen: "Although an acquittal . . . 'would not have been unreasonable, upon weighing the probative value and force of the conflicting testimony and the inferences to be drawn therefrom,' we cannot conclude that the jury failed to give the evidence the weight it should be accorded (People v Kuykendall, 43 AD3d 493, 495, lv denied 9 NY3d 1007; see generally Bleakley, 69 NY2d at 495) . . . We accord great deference to the jury's credibility determinations, 'which obviously reflect[] at least [the jury's] uncertainty concerning much of the complainant[s'] testimony [with respect to] the . . . crimes of which defendant was acquitted. However, the jury was entitled to credit some of [their] testimony while discounting other aspects' (Kuykendall, 43 AD3d at 495; see People v Reed, 40 NY2d 204, 208)."

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