Justia Criminal Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New York Court of Appeals

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the order of the Appellate Division reversing the judgment of County County convicting Defendant, a level three sex offender, of failing to register his Facebook account, concluding that Facebook is not an "internet identifier" and that the existence of a Facebook account need not be disclosed to the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) pursuant to N.Y. Corp. Law 168-f(4). Pursuant to section 168-a(18), "internet identifiers" are defined as "electronic mail addresses and designations used for purposes of chat, instant messaging, social networking or other similar internet communication." The People argued that Defendant was required to register his Facebook account as an "internet identifier" pursuant to section 168-f(4). The Appellate Division concluded that a Facebook account is not an "internet identifier" that Defendant must disclose to DCJS. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that that Facebook is not an "internet identifier" and that the existence of a Facebook account - as opposed to the internet identifiers a sex offender may use to access Facebook or interact with other users on Facebook - need not be disclosed to DCJS pursuant to section 168-f(4). View "People v. Ellis" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division affirming Defendant's conviction, holding that the People violated their constitutional obligation to disclose a surveillance video that captured the scene at the time of the shooting, and there was a reasonable probability that the disclosure of the video would have produced a different result at trial. Defendant was convicted of murder for shooting Ruben Alexandre outside an apartment building. The surveillance video of the scene in this case included images of the victim and a key prosecution witness. After receiving the video, Defendant moved to vacate his conviction, arguing that the People's failure to disclose the video violated their obligations under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The trial court denied the motion. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that where the video was withheld from the defense and the jury was told it did not exist, the aggregate effect of the suppression of the evidence undermined confidence in the verdict, and therefore, Defendant was entitled to a new trial. View "People v. Ulett" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction of first-degree rape, holding that Defendant did not carry his burden of demonstrating ineffective assistance of counsel and that, even if erroneous, the introduction of DNA evidence was harmless. On appeal, Defendant argued (1) his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to review or comprehend the significance of surveillance video evidence contradicting his grand jury testimony of a consensual sexual encounter with the victim, and (2) the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment rights by admitting DNA evidence at trial because the analyst who testified at trial did not generate the DNA profile taken from Defendant's buccal swab. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) defense counsel provided meaningful representation; and (2) because the DNA evidence did not go to the determinative issue of consent, any error in admitting it was harmless. View "People v. Lopez-Mendoza" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed Defendant's conviction of second-degree burglary and petit larceny, holding that defense counsel did not provide ineffective assistance by advancing a jury nullification defense at trial. On appeal, Defendant argued that his trial counsel was ineffective because he exclusively pursued a jury nullification defense to the exclusion of other viable defenses. The Appellate Division affirmed, concluding that defense counsel pursued a reasonable strategy and provided meaningful representation. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the record of counsel's performance demonstrated that Defendant failed to sustain his burden that he was deprived of meaningful representation. View "People v. Mendoza" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Appellate Division and reinstated the order of Supreme Court convicting Defendant of murder in the second degree on the theory of felony murder, robbery in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, holding that to the extent there was any suppression of impeachment material, there was no reasonable possibility that the verdict would have been different if the information at issue had been disclosed. The Appellate Division granted Defendant's motion to vacate his conviction, holding that the People violated their obligations under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to disclose favorable impeachment material derived from the circumstances of a prosecution witness's pending burglary case and that the People failed to correct misleading testimony provided by the witness on that subject at trial. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that there was no reasonable possibility that the failure to disclose the particular evidence would have affected the verdict. View "People v. Giuca" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the order of the Appellate Division affirming Defendant's conviction of attempted murder in the second degree, assault in the first degree, and criminal use of a firearm in the first degree, holding that the People failed to meet its burden to establish that the conditions necessary to warrant a missing witness charge were not met under People v. Gonzalez, 68 NY2d 424 (N.Y. 1986). On appeal, the Appellate Division held that Supreme Court did not abuse its discretion by denying Defendant's request for a missing witness instruction, which allows a jury to draw an unfavorable inference based on a party's failure to call a witness who would normally be expected to support that party's version of events. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Supreme Court abused its discretion by declining to give the missing witness charge because the People failed to rebut Defendant's prima facie showing of entitlement to the missing witness charge. View "People v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Appellate Division reversing Defendant's conviction of manslaughter in the first degree, holding that no reasonable view of the evidence warranted a jury instruction on justification. Defendant shot and killed the victim in the lobby of Defendant's apartment building following an argument. Defendant asked the court for a justification instruction, but the court denied the request on the grounds that the evidence did not warrant a justification charge. The Appellate Division reversed, concluding that Defendant was entitled to a jury instruction on justification. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Defendant was not entitled to a justification charge on this record. View "People v. Brown" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the Appellate Division upholding Defendant's conviction of six counts of first-degree robbery, holding that the trial court created a specter of bias when it negotiated and entered into a cooperation agreement with a codefendant requiring the codefendant to testify against Defendant in exchange for a more favorable sentence. During Defendant's trial, the codefendant testified for the People, admitting to his own involvement in the robbery and identifying Defendant as his accomplice. Defendant moved to preclude the codefendant's testimony, arguing that the cooperation agreement between between the trial court and the codefendant indicated that the court had abdicated its responsibility to act in a neutral and detached manner. The trial court denied Defendant's motion, and Defendant was convicted. The Appellate Division upheld the judgment of conviction. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the trial court abandoned the role of a neutral arbiter and assumed the function of an interested party, thus denying Defendant his due process right to a fair trial in a fair tribunal. View "People v. Towns" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Appellate Division affirming Defendant's conviction of attempted assault in the first degree, holding that a portion of a testifying witness's prior grand jury testimony was properly admitted as a past recollection recorded to supplement his trial testimony. The Appellate Division held that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in admitting the grand jury testimony as a past recollection recorded because the People laid a proper foundation for the admission of the testimony and that there was no violation of the Confrontation Clause because the witness testified at trial and was subject to cross-examination. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that there was a proper foundation for receipt of the evidence and that Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was not violated. View "People v. Tapia" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Appellate Division denying Defendant's petition for a writ of error coram nobis based on Appellant's claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, holding that Appellant was provided with meaningful representation under the State's ineffective assistance of counsel standard. In his petition, Appellant argued that he was deprived of the effective assistance of appellate counsel due to (1) counsel's failure to challenge his sentences as unduly harsh and severe, and (2) deficiencies in the quality of the appellate brief and appellate counsel's communication with Appellant. The Appellate Division denied Appellant's application. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) Appellant was afforded meaningful representation on his direct appeal, and therefore, Appellant's counsel was not ineffective under the New York State Constitution; and (2) because the New York meaningful representation standard offers greater protection than the federal test, Appellant's federal constitutional challenge is rejected as well. View "People v. Alvarez" on Justia Law