Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Appellate Courts Might Not Be Able to Affirm Decisions With Right Result But For Wrong Reason

In People v LaFontaine (92 NY2d 470 [1998]) the Court of Appeals held that the Appellate Divisions cannot affirm a lower court's decision for reasons which were rejected by that lower court. The lower court in LaFontaine had refused to suppress the drugs in question, but for the wrong reason, rejecting the correct reason. The Appellate Division affirmed, basing its holding on the correct rationale, which the lower court had rejected. The Court of Appeals held that this was improper, explaining that CPL 470.15 (1) bars the Appellate Divisions from affirming a judgment, sentence or order on a ground not decided adversely to the appellant by the trial court. The Court noted
that it had previously "construed CPL 470.15 (1) as a legislative restriction on the Appellate Division's power to review issues either decidhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifed in an appellant's favor, or not ruled upon, by the trial court," citing People v Romero (91 NY2d 750, 753-753 [1998]) and People v Goodfriend (64 NY2d 695, 697-698 [1984]) (92 NY2d at 474). Because [the Court] agreed with the Appellate Division's unanimous rejection of Supreme Court's reason for denying suppression — the "only reviewable predicate for a lawful arrest" — we reversed the Appellate Division's order affirming the judgment of conviction and sentence.

In the years since LaFontaine was decided it has been largely ignored or forgotten by both attorneys and appellate courts. But the Court of Appeals in People v Concepcion (2011 NY Slip Op 05110 [6/14/11]) reminded us that LaFontaine remains good law, and the Legislature had not amended CPL 470.15 (1) in the years since LaFontaine was decided, despite an explicit invitation by the Court to do so. Judges Smith and Pigott dissented urging that LaFontaine be overruled.

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