Thursday, October 4, 2018

Jury Questions - What to do when a judge fails to respond properly, and how to preserve the error

by Jill Paperno

Author of "Representing the Accused: A Practical Guide to Criminal Defense"

A judge must respond to a jury's questions in a way that meaningfully answers the question and does not add new principles of law to those they originally received.  (Some practice tips at the end.) 
  
In People v. Wood, 163 AD3d 14852018 Slip Op 05422, (4th Dept July 25, 2018),  the Fourth Department considered whether the trial court adequately responded to the jury's questions about intent and knowledge.  Defendant was accused of brandishing a weapon in a restaurant.  He was arrested shortly after the incident and found in possession of a loaded firearm.  (Interestingly, and unfortunately, defendant's testimony and defense seem to have made out all of the elements of one of the charges in the indictment - CPW2 possession of a loaded firearm under Penal Law 265.03[3] But I digress...). 

During deliberations the jury sent the court a note requesting clarification of the terms "intent" and "unlawfully," and asked whether they applied to when the defendant emerged from the vehicle, when he pulled the weapon from his pants, or at any time he was in possession of the gun.  They also asked for a readback about the interaction in the restaurant.  The prosecutor then asked, for the first time, for an instruction on the presumption (or as Bradley would remind us, permissive inference) that one in unlawful possession of a loaded firearm is presumed to intend to use it unlawfully against another.  The defense objected, noting that the prosecutor had never previously requested the instruction, the Court should not be instructing on principles of law for the first time during deliberations, and that counsel did not have an opportunity to respond to the new instruction.  The Court overruled the objections and read the additional instruction.  Within two minutes the jury had a verdict. 

The Appellate Division in Wood wrote: 
The Criminal Procedure Law allows the jury to ask the court to clarify an instruction "[a]t any time during its deliberation" (CPL 310.30). Upon receiving such a request, the court must " perform the delicate operation of fashioning a response which meaningfully answer[s] the jury's inquiry while at the same time working no prejudice to the defendant' " (People v Brewer, 118 AD3d 1409, 1413 [4th Dept 2014], lv denied 24 NY3d 1082 [2014]; see People v Miller, 288 AD2d 698, 700 [3d Dept 2001]). "[T]he court has significant discretion in determining the proper scope and nature of the response" (People v Taylor, 26 NY3d 217, 224 [2015]). In determining whether the court's response constituted an abuse of discretion, " [t]he factors to be evaluated are the form of the jury's question, which may have to be clarified before it can be answered, the particular issue of which inquiry is made, the [information] actually given and the presence or absence of prejudice to the defendant' " (id., quoting People v Malloy, 55 NY2d 296, 302 [1982], cert denied 459 US 847 [1982]).We conclude that the court failed in its duty to fashion a response that meaningfully answered the jury's question and to avoid prejudicing defendant. The jury notes demonstrate that the jury had thoughtful questions about intent and was carefully weighing the conflicting testimony of the witnesses to determine whether and when defendant in fact formed the intent to use the gun unlawfully against another. The court, however, instructed the jury that defendant's possession of the gun was presumptive evidence of intent to use it unlawfully, and that the jury may not need or want to consider additional evidence in light of that presumption. That answer was not responsive to either note. Moreover, the court's response prejudiced defendant by introducing new principles of law after summations, when defense counsel no longer had the opportunity to argue that, despite the presumption, the evidence established that defendant lacked the requisite intent (see Brewer, 118 AD3d at 1413; see generally People v Sierra, 231 AD2d 907, 908 [4th Dept 1996]).

So there are  several takeaways from this case.  First, don't have your client admit to all of the elements of one of the charges in an indictment if the charges are all at the same level of severity and relate to the same incident.  It may be a defense to admit to lower level charges, or charges relating to one non-transactional incident, but to admit to a C violent while fighting another subdivision of the charge may lead you to win the battle but lose the war, as happened here.
Second, if the jury asks a question, make sure you have the opportunity to read the note or have the entire note read to you.  Ask the Court to mark it and make it part of the record if the Court is not doing that.  Consider whether the Court's proposed response adequately addresses the question.  If it does not, object.  If the question involves readback, make sure the cross is included, and that all of the readback addressing the topic is provided to the jury - I have had many trials where the Court believed some of the testimony was responsive and was not intending to read the rest, or only asked the stenographer to read part.  Sometimes judges rely entirely on the stenographer's interpretation of what testimony is responsive.  Object if the cross or a part of the readback is left out (unless that part hurts you, in which case perhaps you rely on the Court's recollection and selection).  If there are new instructions or legal principles included in the Court's response, and they are harmful to your case, object, citing this case, and noting that the defense did not have an opportunity to respond to or address those instructions during the trial, and this deprives your client of the rights to due process and a fair trial as protected by the New York State and United States constitutions.  
As an aside - you do not have to assume that the Criminal Jury Instructions must be read verbatim.  They are suggestions, and you should consider offering your own instructions when your case warrants it.  If you do, and the Court rejects your  instruction, have it marked and made part of the record so it can be reviewed on appeal.  Or at least make sure your verbal request is on the record.
Jury instructions are an important part of the case, and much as we would like to take that time for a well deserved nap, we have to be vigilant and precise as we listen, object, consider whether proposed responses are accurate and complete, and make additional requests.  


Monday, October 1, 2018

Implied Bias of a Prospective Juror Cannot Be Cured With An Expurgatory Oath

by Brian Shiffrin

    It is important understand the differences between actual bias and implied bias of prospective jurors. CPL§ 270(1)(b), deals with a prospective juror  who has evinced an actual bias, defined as  “a state of mind that is likely to preclude him from rendering an impartial verdict based upon the evidence adduced at trial.” If a juror’s statements during voir dire raise a doubt about his impartiality, such as statements that he has a pre-formed opinion about the case, that juror cannot be permitted to sit unless he states unequivocally that he can be fair and decide the case solely on the evidence adduced at trial (People v Johnson, 17 NY3d 752, 753 [2011]; People v Chambers, 97 NY2d 417, 419 [2002]; People v Arnold, 96 NY2d 358, 362-363 [2001]; People v Johnson, 94 NY2d 600, 614 [2000]). Thus, actual bias can be cured by an expurgatory oath.
Another subdivision, CPL § 270(1)(c), permits challenges for cause stemming from the implied bias of a prospective juror’s relationship with either party, witness, or counsel.
Specifically, this subdivision, very broadly permits challenges for cause where a prospective juror
is related within the sixth degree by consanguinity or affinity to the defendant, or to the person allegedly injured by the crime charged, or to a prospective witness at the trial, or to counsel for the people or for the defendant;. . . .  that he bears some other relationship to any such person of such nature that it is likely to preclude him from rendering an impartial verdict
(CPL§ 270.20[1][c].)

As quoted above, CPL§ 270.20(1)(c) is not limited to familial relationships. The Court of Appeals has explained that this subdivision was written to provide for wider listing of relationships subject to challenge for cause than the Code of Criminal Procedure had previously allowed which is why it included the catchall last sentence,  not in the Code,  authorizing for cause challenges to a prospective juror who bears some other relationship to any such person of such nature that it is likely to preclude him from rendering an impartial verdict (People v Culhane, 33 NY2d 90, 104-05, n2 [1973]).  These relationships have been held to include a wide variety of professional and personal relationships (see, e.g., People v Rentz, 67 NY2d 829, 830–831 [1986] [juror with professional relationship with two witnesses and personal one with one witness should have been disqualified]; People v. Branch, 46 N.Y.2d at 650–651 [looked at “direct contact” with the District Attorney and that juror had “worked directly” with trial prosecutor, in addition to having a personal relationship with trial prosecutor]; People v. Littebrant, 55 AD3d 1151, 1154, [2008] [juror with professional and long-term personal relationship with key defense witness properly excused for cause]; People v Bedard, 132 AD3d 1070 [3d Dept 2015] [friendship with District Attorney required granting of a for cause challenge]; People v. Clark, 125 A.D.2d 868 [friendship with District Attorney required granting of for cause challenge]; People v Meyer, 78 AD2d 662, 664 [2d Dept 1980] [limited social acquaintance and a business relationship with the prosecution witness created implied bias requiring exclusion]; People v Wlasiuk, 90 AD3d 1405, 1412 [3d Dept 2011] [juror failed to disclosprofessional relationship as coworker to victim]). 
Critically, in contrast to challenges for cause based on actual bias pursuant to CPL § 270(1)(b), the implied bias of a prospective juror’s relationship with either a party, witness, or counsel, cannot be cured with an expurgatory oath (People v Furey, 18 NY3d 284, 287-88 [2011]; People v Branch, 46 NY2d 645, 649-52 [1979] [“the risk of prejudice arising out of the close relationship ... [is] so great that recital of an oath of impartiality could not convincingly dispel the taint”]).
Thus, the Court of Appeals has explained that a challenge for cause for a person who has a relationship covered by  CPL § 270(1)(c)
requires automatic exclusion from jury service regardless of whether the prospective juror declares that the relationship will not affect her ability to be fair and impartial (see e.g. People v Branch, 46 NY2d 645, 650 [1979]; People v Rentz, 67 NY2d 829, 831 [1986]). And such bias . . .creates the perception that the accused might not receive a fair trial before an impartial finder of fact.  For this reason, we have advised trial courts to exercise caution in these situations by leaning toward “disqualifying a prospective juror of dubious impartiality” (People v Branch, 46 NY2d 645, 651.)
(People v Furey, 18 NY3d 284, 287-88 [2011].)
This past week, citing and applying Furey, the Fourth Department, in People v Farley (2018 NY Slip Op 06380 [4th Dept]), reversed a conviction where the the juror acknowledged that the medical witness was the surgeon who save her life, despite the juror's insistence that she could be fair. Remember, reversal only occurs if  the defendant exercised a peremptory challenged and and exhausted his peremptory challenges (see CPL 270.20 [2]).




Thursday, September 20, 2018

Batson challenges and People v. Herrod

by Jill Paperno,


There is a body of law that bars discriminatory use of challenges to jurors based on a Supreme Court decision, Batson v. Kentucky 476 U.S. 79.  When you are challenging a prosecutor's discriminatory  use of jury challenges, it is called "making a Batson challenge."   

In People v. Herrod, the Fourth Department reminds us of the process and standards to be applied in Batson challenges.  One way prosecutors often oppose our Batsonchallenges is by claiming that there has been no "pattern" of discrimination established during our challenge.  But that is not the standard, and it's really important that we not allow the prosecutor or court to rely on that erroneous belief in denying our challenges.   In People v. Herrod , 2018 NY Slip Op 05110 [163  AD3d 1462 [4th Dept July 6, 2018],  the Fourth Department stated, 


Defendant contends that County Court misstated his burden under the first step of the three-step Batson test. We agree. In order for the moving party to satisfy its burden at step one, it must " show[ ] that the facts and circumstances of the voir dire raise an inference that the other party excused one or more jurors for an impermissible reason'" (People v Baxter, 108 AD3d 1158, 1159, 969 N.Y.S.2d 678 [4th Dept 2013], quoting People v Smocum, 99 NY2d 418, 421, 786 N.E.2d 1275, 757 N.Y.S.2d 239 [2003]). "A defendant need not show [either] a pattern of discrimination'" (People v Anthony, 152 AD3d 1048, 1050, 61 N.Y.S.3d 151 [3d Dept 2017]) or, as the court stated here, "a systematic approach by the prosecution." (Emphasis added.)  Rather, a defendant may satisfy his or her burden under the first step by demonstrating that "members of the cognizable group were excluded while others with the same relevant characteristics were not" or that the People excluded members of the cognizable group "who, because of their background and experience, might otherwise be expected to be favorably disposed to the prosecution" (People v Childress, 81 NY2d 263, 267, 614 N.E.2d 709, 598 N.Y.S.2d 146 [1993]).

We conclude that defendant met his burden under step one by establishing that there is a basis in the record to infer that the People exercised the peremptory challenge in a discriminatory manner. Here, defense counsel explained to the court that the relevant prospective juror was the first African-American male "that's been available without a [for]-cause" challenge and that the prospective juror provided answers during voir dire that were favorable to the prosecution, i.e., that the prospective juror had a number of family members in law enforcement, had a college degree and had at one time been  robbed. Defense counsel thus implied that he could not ascertain from the prospective juror's answers a reason for the peremptory challenge other than racial bias. The court did not provide defense counsel with any further opportunity to develop that argument and, instead, interrupted defense counsel and concluded that a pattern of discrimination had not been established.
Inasmuch as there is a basis in the record to infer that the People exercised the peremptory challenge in a discriminatory manner, we conclude that "the burden shifted to the People to articulate a non-discriminatory reason for striking the juror, and the court then should have determined whether the proffered reason was pretextual" (People v Davis, 153 AD3d 1631, 1632, 62 N.Y.S.3d 641 [4th Dept 2017]; see generally People v James, 99 NY2d 264, 270-271, 784 N.E.2d 1152, 755 N.Y.S.2d 43 [2002]). We therefore hold the case, reserve decision, and remit the matter to County Court for that purpose (see Davis, 153 AD3d at 1632).
People v Herrod, 163 A.D.3d 1462, 1462-1463.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Recent Court of Appeals Decisions on Jury Notes

by Jill Paperno,

When a jury has a substantive note in the case (not simply asking for a bathroom or cigarette break, for example), it is not enough for a judge to summarize its contents.  This is one of the few areas in which appellate courts scrutinize adherence to the letter of the law, in this case CPL 310.30 (Jury deliberation; request for information), and the cases interpreting it (specifically, People v. O'Rama 78 NY2d 270).  Failure to provide this information to defense counsel constitutes a "mode of proceedings error," and can lead to reversal. In People v. Parker and People v. Morrison, both decided on June 28, 2018, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed its position on the need to strictly adhere to jury note procedures. 

In People v. Parker2018 NY Slip Op 04776, the Court reiterated what is required by the trial court in providing meaningful notice of the contents of the note, and a meaningful response to the jury. The Court further acknowledged the purpose of notice to the counsel is to provide counsel with the opportunity to "participate in the formation of a response" to the jury's question.  Justice Rivera, writing for the Court, noted that the record did not establish that all three jury notes were shared with counsel, and stated:   

CPL 310.30 requires that, in response to a jury request for additional information or instruction "with respect to any matter pertinent to the jury's consideration of the case," the trial court "must direct that the jury be returned to the courtroom and, after notice to both the people and counsel for the defendant[,] must give such requested information or instruction as the court deems proper." In People v Mack, we reaffirmed that CPL 310.30 "imposes two responsibilities on trial courts upon receipt of a substantive note from a deliberating jury: the court must provide counsel with meaningful notice of the content of the note, and the  court must provide a meaningful response to the jury" (27 NY3d 534, 536  [2016], citing O'Rama, 78 NY2d at 276-277). "[M]eaningful notice means notice of the actual specific content of the jurors' request'" (id. at 538, quoting O'Rama, 78 NY2d at 277). The purpose of this requirement is to give counsel an opportunity to participate in the formation of a response to the jury's substantive inquiry (see O'Rama, 78 NY2d at 276-277). As we have repeatedly instructed, such "departures from the O'Rama procedures are not subject to preservation rules" (People v Walston, 23 NY3d 986, 989, 991 N.Y.S.2d 24, 14 N.E.3d 377 [2014] [citations omitted]). Rather, "when the trial court fails to provide counsel with meaningful notice of a substantive jury note, a mode of proceedings error has occurred and reversal is required" (Mack, 27 NY3d at 538).
People v Parker, 2018 N.Y. LEXIS 1592, *13-14 

 In People v. Morrison, 2018 NY Slip Op 04777, decided 6/28/18, the Court of Appeals reversed defendant's conviction because the entire content of the note was not shared with counsel, stating, 

The trial court's failure to provide counsel with meaningful notice of a substantive jury note is a mode of proceedings error that requires reversal (see People v Mack, 27 NY3d 534, 538  [2016], rearg denied 28 N.Y.3d 944 [2016]; People v Nealon, 26 NY3d 152, 156-157 [2015]). "[M]eaningful notice means notice of the actual specific content of the jurors' request'" (Mack, 27 NY3d at 538, quoting People v O'Rama, 78 NY2d 270, 277  [1991]). Although the record demonstrates that "defense counsel was made aware of the existence of the note, there is no indication that the entire contents of the note were shared with counsel" (People v Walston, 23 NY3d 986, 990 [2014]). We therefore reject the People's argument that defense counsel's awareness of the existence and the "gist" of the note satisfied the court's meaningful notice obligation, or that preservation was required. "Where the record fails to show that defense counsel was apprised of the specific, substantive contents of the note—as it is in this case—preservation is not required" (id.).
Moreover, "[w]here a trial transcript does  not show compliance with O'Rama's procedure as required by law, we cannot assume that the omission was remedied at an off-the-record conference that the transcript does not refer to" (id.). In other words, "[i]n the absence of record proof that the trial court complied with its [meaningful notice obligation] under CPL 310.30, a mode of proceedings error occurred requiring reversal" (People v Tabb, 13 NY3d 852, 853  [2009]). We again decline "to disavow our holding in Walston . . . that imposes an affirmative obligation on a trial court to create a record of compliance under CPL 310.30 and O'Rama" (People v Silva, 24 NY3d 294, 300  [2014], rearg denied 24 N.Y.3d 1216 [2015]; see People v Parker, — NY3d — [decided today]).  People v Morrison, 2018 N.Y. LEXIS 1594, *1-2 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Second Circuit Has Held That New York State Convictions for “Controlled Substances” Offenses Do Not Qualify as a Career Offender Conviction

by

Lawrence L. Kasperek


In USA v. Townsend, 897 F.3d 66 (2d Cir. July 23, 2018), the Second Circuit held that NYS Penal Law  Section § 220.31 (fifth-degree criminal sale of a controlled substance) is not a "controlled substance offense" under USSG 4B1.2(b). See United States v. Townsend, 897 F.3d 66 (2d Cir. 2018) (Cabranes, Carney, Vilardo (W.D.N.Y.)) (appeal from Irizarry, C.J., E.D.N.Y.). Yes that's right  --  Judge Vilardo sitting by designation from the WDNY in Buffalo, NY.

The consequences of this decision is that any New York State statute that just uses the term “controlled substance” is not a controlled substances offense for the purposes of the Career Offender Guideline analysis.

How to apply Townsend:

- Any NY state statute that just uses the term “controlled substance” (as opposed to, say "narcotic drug") IS NOT a controlled substance offense. The most common New York State statutes to look for are: 220.31 (criminal sale 5th); 220.06(1) (criminal possession 5th); 220.34(7) and (8) (criminal sale 4th); 220.48 (criminal sale to child); 220.65 (criminal sale by practitioner); 220.77(1) (operating as major trafficker).

- Statutes from other states with overbroad drug schedules also may not qualify, depending on whether or not the statute is divisible, and whether the government has Shepard documents showing the particular substance sold. States that are known to have overbroad schedules include California, Connecticut, Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. However, there may be others. Often, the good law on divisibility and overbreadth appears in immigration cases involving the “controlled substance offense”" ground of removability. If your client has an out-of-state drug prior, you will want to take a close look at overbreadth.

- For now, the higher-degree New York offenses, especially 220.39(1) (criminal sale 3rd, narcotic drug) still count.

Importantly, Townsend's logic may also apply to 2K2,.1 referencing "controlled substance offenses" or any other Guideline application.

Credit for the above belongs to Daniel Habib, a Federal Public Defender in the Eastern and Southern Districts of NY for bring the challenge and  Amy Baron-Evans, National Sentencing Resource Counsel  for analysis.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Defending Against Claim of Constructive Possession

by Jill Paperno,

Author of "Representing the Accused: A Practical Guide to Criminal Defense"

As you know, there are different ways a client may be charged with unlawful possession of drugs or a weapon or other contraband.  They may be charged with actual possession,  when the item is found on their person.  Or they may be charged with constructive possession, when it is alleged they have dominion and control over the location in which the item was found.  Under some circumstances (and please check the statutes for the specific circumstances in each case) they may be accused of possession based on a statutory presumption.   

All too often, our clients are accused of possessing items in locations where they are spending a short time or passing through.  When a client is accused of possession under those circumstances, we should challenge the claim by moving against the accusatory instrument, requesting greater specification of the dominion and control in the request for bill of particulars, seeking suppression through hearings, and focusing on that at trial.  (If a defendant is accused based solely on a presumption, the defendant has automatic standing to challenge an unlawful search of a location.  If they are accused based on the presumption and constructive possession, you must ask in your request for bill of particulars what the factual basis is for a conclusion that the defendant exercised dominion and control.  Argue that the prosecution is merely making a constructive claim to avoid the automatic standing.  (Often they are.)   

When a defendant is charged with constructive possession, they must have greater involvement with the location than merely being present.  In  People v Williams, 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4221 decided June 8th, the Fourth Department reversed defendant's conviction, concluding that the defendant's connection with the apartment where she was arrested, and where it was claimed she had dominion and control, was too limited.  The Court stated, 

Where, as here, there is no evidence that the defendant actually possessed the controlled substance, the People are required to establish that the defendant "exercised dominion or control' over the property by a sufficient level of control over the area in which the contraband is found or over the person from whom the contraband is seized" (People v Manini, 79 NY2d 561, 573 [1992]; see Penal Law § 10.00 [8]; People v Russaw, 114 AD3d 1261, 1261-1262 [4th Dept 2014], lv denied 22 NY3d 1202 [2014]). The People may establish constructive possession by circumstantial evidence (see People v Torres, 68 NY2d 677, 678-679 [1986]; People v Boyd, 145 AD3d 1481, 1481-1482,  [4th Dept 2016], lv denied 29 NY3d 947,  [2017]). It is well established, however, that a defendant's mere presence in the area where drugs are discovered is insufficient to establish constructive possession (see Boyd, 145 AD3d at 1482; People v Knightner, 11 AD3d 1002, 1004, 782 N.Y.S.2d 333 [4th Dept 2004], lv denied 4 NY3d 745, 824 N.E.2d 59, 790 N.Y.S.2d 658 [2004]).
People v Williams, 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4221, 

In this case, the defendant was present in the apartment when the search warrant was executed, but there was no evidence she was a frequent occupant or resident of the premises.  The investigator also testified records established the defendant lived there (huh?) but there was no evidence as to how the information was made part of those records, and that through the investigator's surveillance over hundreds of occasions, the defendant was only seen there twice. He testified "typical women's clothing" was found in the apartment but provided no details, and photos did not appear to show such clothing except three pairs of shoes that could be the defendant's, in contrast to the detailed description he gave of men's clothing also found there.
 

The Court concluded: 

Inasmuch as there was no evidence, other than her presence, that specifically connected defendant to the apartment where the contraband was found, "the People failed to prove that [she] exercised dominion and control over the contraband, and therefore failed to prove the possession element of the counts as charged" (People v Brown, 133 AD3d 772, 773 [2d Dept 2015], lv denied 26 NY3d 1143 [2016]; see generally People v Gautreaux-Perez, 31 AD3d 1209, 1210 [4th Dept 2006]).
People v Williams, 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4221, *3-4 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Helpful Decision on Seizure Based on Invalid Warrant/Fellow Officer Rule

by Jill Paperno,


In People v. Searight, 2018 NY Slip Op 04466, the Fourth Department considered the admissibility of drug evidence found after defendant's stop.  Apparently, the Syracuse police department relies on the same charge for stopping some drivers as RPD - the failure to signal sufficiently in advance of a turn in violation of VTL 1163.  (There are ways of challenging the stop when the failure to signal in advance is the basis, such as using internet tools to measure and map the location and the distance from where the driver signaled to the intersection - officers do get this wrong.)

In Searight, decided 6/15/18, the defendant had moved for suppression, specifically challenging the hearsay allegations relied upon by arresting officers.  This was noted in the decision and is critical to your motions - when challenging search or seizure on Fourth Amendment grounds (and the New York State Constitutional equivalent, Article I, Section 12, you must challenge the hearsay relied upon by officers in your written motion.  A commonly used paragraph is "Defendant challenges the sufficiency and reliability of any hearsay allegations relied upon by arresting officers, including any information relayed from a police database."  (I just added the "police database" piece which was in the defense motion in Searight..  If it works for them...)
 

At the suppression hearing, two Syracuse police officers testified that they "obtained information through the New York State Police Information Network (NYSPIN) that a warrant had been issued for defendant in the City of Cortland for felony drug charges. One of the officers communicated with the 911 Center to obtain further [*3]  information concerning the warrant. The 911 Center reported to him that the Cortland Police Department had confirmed that there was an active warrant and had requested that defendant be held until an officer of that department could take him into custody. The officers placed defendant under arrest based upon the warrant and transported him to the Criminal Investigation Division (CID). At CID one of the arresting officers asked defendant if he had anything illegal on his person and defendant produced two baggies containing cocaine, resulting in the present charges."
People v Searight, 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4411, *2-3.   

The Court stated:
 

We agree with defendant that the court erred in refusing to suppress defendant's statements and tangible property, including the cocaine, seized as the result of his arrest, inasmuch as the People failed to meet their burden of showing the legality of the police conduct in arresting defendant in the first instance ( see People v Lopez, 206 AD2d 894, 894 [4th Dept 1994],  lv denied 84 N.Y.2d 937, [1994]).  "Under the fellow officer' rule, [a] police officer is entitled to act on the strength of a radio bulletin or a telephone or teletype alert from a fellow officer or department and to assume its reliability'" (People v Rosario, 78 NY2d 583, 588, [1991], cert denied 502 U.S. 1109, 112 S. Ct. 1210, 117 L. Ed. 2d 448 [1992], quoting People v Lypka, 36 NY2d 210, [1975]). Under those circumstances, the agency or officer  transmitting the information presumptively possesses the requisite probable cause to arrest (see id.). However, where, as here, defendant challenges the reliability of the information transmitted to the arresting officers, "the presumption of probable cause disappears and it becomes incumbent upon the People to establish that the officer or agency imparting the information in fact possessed the probable cause to act" (id.see Lypka, 36 NY2d at 214). 
The People failed to meet that burden. Despite defendant's explicit challenge to the reliability of the information justifying his arrest (see Rosario, 78 NY2d at 588; People v Ynoa, 223 AD2d 975, 977,  [3d Dept 1996], lv denied 87 N.Y.2d 1027, [1996]; cf. People v Fenner, 61 NY2d 971, 973, [1984]), the People did not produce the arrest warrant itself prior to the conclusion of the hearing (see Lopez, 206 AD2d at 894; People v McLoyd, 35 Misc 3d 822, 828, 946 N.Y.S.2d 829 [Sup Ct, NY County 2012]). Instead, the People relied upon the officer's testimony concerning his communications with an unidentified person or persons at the 911 Center and his assumptions about how the 911 Center confirmed the existence of an active and valid warrant.That testimony, however, rested "on a pyramid of hearsay, the information having been passed from" the arresting officer to unidentified persons at the 911 Center and the Cortland Police Department and back to the officer (People v Havelka, 45 NY2d 636, 641, [1978]).  "In making an arrest, a police officer may rely upon information communicated to him by another police officer that an individual is the subject named in a warrant and should be taken into custody in the execution of the warrant . . . However, if the warrant turns out to be invalid or vacated . . . [,] or nonexistent . . . , any evidence seized as a result of the arrest will be suppressed notwithstanding the reasonableness of the arresting officer's reliance upon the communication" (emphasis added)  (People v Lee, 126 AD2d 568, 569,  [2d Dept 1987]; see People v Jennings, 54 NY2d 518,[1981]; People v Lent, 92 AD2d 941, 941,  [2d Dept 1983]). Here, without producing the arrest warrant itself or reliable evidence that the warrant was active and valid, the People did not meet their burden of establishing that defendant's arrest was based on probable cause (see Lopez, 206 AD2d at 894).
People v Searight, 2018 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4411, *3-5 

What's interesting to me is that the defendant apparently did violate the V&T with the turn, and he did not have a license.  But the Fourth Department still suppressed the evidence, stating that the defendant was arrested based on the warrant, and finding the existence of a valid warrant was necessary to support the arrest.  So to the extent you can, if you have a V & T stop, and the police claim a warrant existed that you can challenge, try to get the officers to acknowledge that the arrest was based on the warrant. 

Side note:
 

This is a different situation than that in the Supreme Court case Utah v. Strieff, 136 Supreme Court 2056 (2016) in which the defendant was initially unlawfully detained, and the police located a valid warrant for a minor traffic violation.  The Supreme Court, with a vigorous dissent by Justice Sotomayor, found such an arrest and the seizure of evidence to be lawful.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Prosecutorial misconduct in death penalty cases exposed by one of their own

Here is a new, remarkable article in The Intercept on capital prosecutors behaving badly, including hiding or destroying evidence in capital cases, then lying about it in death penalty cases, as revealed by a former capital prosecutor who claims to have first hand knowledge of this misconduct.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Exoneration of Persons Convicted of Misdemeanors That Were Never Committed

There are a number of ways a person convicted of a crime can be exonerated. It can be proved that the person was not the perpetrator, for example by DNA testing of biological evidence left by the perpetrator of the crime excluding the defendant. There can be proof of an iron clad alibi – such as proof that the defendant was incarcerated or in another country when the crime was committed. It can be be proved that someone else committed the crime, for example by video evidence of the commission of the crime.

One way a person can be exonerated is by proof that the crime was never committed. For example, persons have been convicted of murder only for the supposed decedent to subsequently be proved to still be alive. And, unless one believes in witchcraft, one can safely assume that the 20 persons executed for witchcraft in Salem were convicted and killed by the state for crimes that were never committed.

Most attention to exonerations in the current innocent movement has been focused on persons proved innocent of serious felonies  -- homicides, sex crimes, and assaults – by DNA evidence. But, as described in an important and provocative law review article, THE INNOCENCE MOVEMENT AND MISDEMEANORS, 98 B.U. L. Rev. 779 (June 2018) by Jenny Roberts , the Co-Director of the Criminal Justice Clinic and Associate Dean for Scholarship, American University Washington College of Law, lab tests and video evidence have demonstrated that large numbers of persons have been convicted of misdemeanors, such as drug possession, often by guilty plea, for crimes which were never committed.

For example, lab tests have demonstrated that there were no illicit drugs. Videos have established that the charged crimes were not committed (such as by showing police planting evidence). As the article discusses, given the huge number of person who are arrested and convicted of misdemeanors, and the impact of such convictions, it might be helpful to direct far more resources to both identifying  such cases and dealing with the the police and prosecutorial practices which have enabled them.

I taught a wrongful conviction cause for a decade and, apart from a discussion of the Ramparts scandal at Los Angeles Police Department , did not even discuss the issue of exoneration of people convicted of misdemeanors. I strongly believe that this is article is worth reading as it raises numerous important questions regarding the meaning and significance of such exonerations and how we should respond to them to prevent future convictions of innocent persons.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Pro se litigant obtains a reversal on appeal

In the "even a blind squirrel finds a nut" category, in the July 6th packet of Appellate Division, Fourth Department decisions, perennial litigant and pretty good jailhouse lawyer Isiah Williams won a reversal of his conviction, pro se.  Mr. Williams was previously acquitted of the possession of two forged checks and convicted of possession of another. After the Fourth Department reversed that conviction, at the retrial the Ontario County Court allowed the prosecutor to introduce evidence of defendant's possession of the checks he had been acquitted of possessing. Unsurprisingly, the Fourth Department found that this was wrong, and reversed defendant's conviction. Good lawyerin' Mr. Williams. Read the decision here.


Friday, July 6, 2018

Monroe County Public Defender's Office 50 year anniversary celebration

Greetings to all alumni/dinosaurs of the Monroe County Public Defender's Office. On September 14, 2018 from 5:30 p.m. - ??? there will be a celebration of 50 years of service for the Monroe County Public Defender's Office at Tournedos at the Inn on Broadway 26 Broadway, Rochester, NY 14607. There will be a cash bar, grazing tables, music, "Get out of Jail" t-shirts and stuff, and lots of present and past PDs. As we firm things up we will pass along more information here as it becomes available; be sure to check back. Please help us reach out to out-of-towners. Don't assume we have reached everyone locally or otherwise. Finally, we will likely ask for deposits as soon as we have a price point to help with expenses (again check back for info on how much and whom). This should be a terrific celebration of you, the office, the mission of the office, its future and the present staff. Please come help us celebrate, have fun, tell war stories and share a few.

Monday, July 2, 2018

How reliable are DWI blood test results? Well, it depends . . .

In a recent DWI prosecution, ETKS associate Paul Meabon moved to preclude the introduction of the results of a sample taken by a registered nurse at the direction of a Rochester Police officer pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1194(4)(a)(1)(I), which provides, in relevant part that “[a]t a police officer’s request … a physician, a registered professional nurse, a registered physician assistant, a certified nurse practitioner, or an advanced emergency medical technician as certified by the department of health” may withdraw blood to determine the blood’s alcoholic or drug content.
Mr. Meabon argued that because the discovery provided revealed that the sample had not been properly collected or stored, any test results relating to that sample would unreliable and therefore irrelevant.
In New York, a blood draw must be “safe, reliable” and “impose no more physical discomfort than is reasonably necessary” (Matter of Abe A., 56 NY2d 288, 297-98 [1982]). Reliable methods fall within “accepted medical standards” including, for example, the application of an “aqueous solution of a nonvolatile antiseptic” on the area of skin where blood is drawn (see id., referencing Schmerber v California, 384 US 757, 771-772 [1966]; 10 NYCRR 59.2[d]). A blood sample collected outside statutory guidelines must be suppressed (see People v Olmstead, 233 AD2d 837 [4th Dept 1996]; People v Ebner, 195 AD2d 1006, 1007 [4th Dept 1993]).
Along with the method of its collection, a blood sample’s reliability depends on the sample’s storage. In Mr. Meabon’s case, the nurse stored each blood sample in a NIK Public Safety, Inc. vacutainer tube containing chemicals to safeguard the sample’s integrity.
One chemical contained in the tube, 20 milligrams of potassium oxalate, is a powdered anticoagulant that hinders blood’s production of thrombin, an enzyme that stimulates clotting (Peter Gerstenzang & Eric H. Sills, Handling the DWI Case in New York § 38:10 [2015-2016 ed.]; see 10 NYCRR § 59.2[c][4][ii] [“blood shall be deposited in a clean container containing a solid anticoagulant”]). Clotting in a blood sample concentrates alcohol in the sample’s liquid, the portion tested to determine blood alcohol content, causing an erroneously high result (see People v Boyst, 177 AD2d 962 [4th Dept 1991] [blood sample without anticoagulant admissible given laboratory’s use of clotting conversion factor]).
A second chemical, sodium fluoride, is a preservative staving off fermentation as a sample decays (Handling the DWI Case in New York, supra at § 38.11). A blood sample without a preservative ferments during storage (even while refrigerated) and, in some cases, raises a sample’s alcohol content 0.25% or higher (id.).
Some careful attention to a critical variance between the instructions for the blood draw kit and the procedures followed presented an issue.
Because clotting and fermentation undermine a blood sample’s test results, the blood draw kit used instructs the nurse to “slowly invert the tubes at least five times immediately after blood collection” (see id. at § 38:8). Likewise, the kit instructs the officer supervising the blood draw, to “INVERT [the tube] slowly and completely at least 20 times” to “ensure proper mixing with the anticoagulant powder” (see id.)
In Mr. Meabon’s case, however, neither the nurse nor officer inverted the tubes as directed before sealing the tubes in the kit’s mailer box. As a consequence, the anticoagulant and blood were not properly mixed and the blood could have clotted before testing. From the test results provided, it was unclear whether the testing laboratory factored clotting into the test results (see Boyst, supra). Furthermore, the test results provided failed to indicate how the laboratory stored the tubes, whether the tubes contained sodium fluoride, or whether any preservative worked to stave off fermentation during the blood sample’s pre-testing decay.
Some issues to consider in your next blood draw DWI case.