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Articles Posted in ASSAULT AND BATTERY

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Evidence of someone’s prior acts is generally not admissible in a New York criminal trial. However, under The Guide to New York Evidence Sec. 4.21, evidence of past “crimes, wrongs, or other acts” may be admissible under certain limited situations.

Rule 4.21 specifically prohibits the introduction of prior-act evidence when it is being used to show that the defendant acted in conformity with that act, or if it is being used to show that a person had a propensity to act in a certain way. However, when the evidence is being offered for other reasons, such as to show someone’s motive, intent, opportunity, preparation, the existence of a common plan or scheme, knowledge, identity, or to establish the absence of a mistake, the evidence may be admitted if it is more probative than prejudicial.

Judges are left with the discretion to determine if prior-act evidence should be admitted. In a recent New York domestic violence case, an appellate court discussed Rule 4.21 and its application.

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Generally speaking, hearsay evidence is not permitted to be considered by the jury in a New York criminal trial. However, there are certain exceptions where a hearsay statement may be properly admitted.hearsay-clipart-canstock18050425

What Is Hearsay?

The concept of hearsay can be complex to grasp, but essentially a hearsay statement is one that was made by a party who is not present to testify in court. A statement is only hearsay if it is testimonial, meaning it is being used for “proof of the matter asserted.” Thus, if the statement is not being used to prove that which was said, it will not be considered hearsay.

Why Is Hearsay Prohibited?

The rationale for the hearsay exclusion is based on the fact that the party who made the statement is not in court to explain what was meant and is not subject to cross-examination. For example, sarcasm may not come across when a statement is relayed at a later date through a third party. In criminal trials, there is also the concern that the person making the statement cannot be cross-examined, depriving the defendant of their confrontation rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Constitution.

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The issue of whether a statement taken by New York CPS workers after a defendant had been arrested in a related criminal case and the defendant’s right to counsel had attached, was recently discussed by a New York Appellate Court.  After police make an arrest, they will often bring the arrestee in for questioning. What is said during this questioning can be crucial. Therefore, before questioning someone about their involvement in a crime, police must read the arrestee specific warnings. These warnings – often called the Miranda warnings – explain the rights of the arrestee. Notably, these include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

If a statement is taken by a law enforcement official in the absence of these warnings, the statement may be inadmissible in court because it was taken in violation of the defendant’s rights. However, only statements made during “custodial interrogation” by a law enforcement official require miranda warnings.   A recent New York assault case illustrates the limits of a defendant’s rights to be free from questioning by a government employee who is not a non-law enforcement official.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was charged with several assault charges stemming from a December 2014 incident in which he was alleged to have struck the mother of his child with a crowbar. At the time of the alleged offense, the defendant’s six-year-old child was present.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York assault case requiring the court discuss an issue that is important to understand for all who are facing New York criminal charges. The case presented the court with determining whether the defendant’s conviction was supported by the weight of the evidence presented at trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence did support the jury’s verdict, and affirmed the defendant’s convictions.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested and charged with two counts of assault in the second degree and one count of tampering with evidence. The case proceeded to trial in front of a jury, where it was established that the defendant got into a fight with two other men. During the fight, the defendant produced a knife because he wanted to scare the other men. He specifically stated that he did not intend to injure them.

The defendant also testified that during the fight, he swung the knife at the two men when they were very close to him. He could not remember if he used a slashing or stabbing motion, and a medical witness testified that the victims had injuries that were consistent with either slashing or stabbing.

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When someone is convicted of a crime in New York, they are entitled to appeal the conviction or to have a higher court review the conviction to make sure that the judge presiding over the trial did not commit any legal errors that may have invalidated the conviction. However, as a general rule, a New York criminal appeal will only be successful if certain steps are taken at trial to preserve the error for appellate review.

The concept behind requiring the preservation of error is that a judge should have the opportunity to review the alleged error at the time it was made so that she can revisit the decision. If a trial judge’s potential mistake is not brought to the attention of the trial judge, there is no opportunity for the judge to reverse their decision or take other corrective actions to remedy the error. In addition, the legislature wants to encourage litigants to bring potential errors to the attention of the judge sooner, rather than later, in order to reduce the chance that a trial is carried on in vain.

For these reasons, a party must generally make a specific objection in order to preserve an error for appellate review. Absent a specific objection, the reviewing court will likely dismiss the appeal. A recent case illustrates this concept.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York aggravated assault case requiring the court to discuss the “depraved indifference” sub-section of the New York aggravated assault statute. Ultimately, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the prosecution failed to establish that the defendant’s mindset at the time of the commission of the crime met the requirement of showing a “depraved indifference for human life.”

Assault in the First Degree

In New York, there are several sub-sections under which someone can be charged with aggravated assault. Sub-section § 120.10(3) states that “a person is guilty of assault in the first degree when … [u]nder circumstances evincing a depraved indifference to human life, [the defendant] recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes serious physical injury to another person.”

The Facts of the Case

The complaining witness lived with the defendant. One day, the defendant called the complaining witness’s mother, explaining that the complaining witness was acting odd and banging her head against the wall. Over the course of the next few weeks, several people visited the complaining witness’s residence, suggesting that the defendant take her in to get medical treatment. The defendant explained he was hesitant because he did not want to be blamed for her injuries.

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When it comes to New York assault cases, there are several different subsections under the general statute outlining what constitutes criminal conduct. One form of aggravated assault is when someone “with intent to prevent a police officer from performing a lawful duty, he [or she] causes physical injury to such police officer.”

This type of aggravated assault does not require any intent to cause harm to the police officer. Under the law, the prosecution need only establish that the defendant was acting to prevent an officer from performing a lawful duty and that the officer was harmed. A 2017 decision issued by a New York appellate court illustrates just how broadly courts will interpret this language when determining if a conviction was appropriate.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was suspected of theft from a Home Depot store. Police began to follow the defendant as he left the store and soon afterward engaged in a high-speed chase. Eventually, the defendant’s vehicle stopped, and the defendant exited the car and then began to flee.

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In New York criminal cases, the prosecution is under a duty to provide certain evidence to the defendant and his attorney, irrespective of whether the prosecutor intends to use the evidence against the defendant. Importantly, the duty attaches to any evidence that may establish innocence or otherwise be favorable to the Defendant. This concept, first discussed by the United States Supreme Court in the landmark case Brady v. Maryland, has since been expanded to cover any evidence that is in the hands of not just of the prosecution but also of the police.  The material is commonly referred to by Criminal Lawyers as “Brady Material”.

A recent case illustrates just how seriously courts take the prosecution’s duty to disclose evidence to the defense. Indeed, the court noted that, although the defendant’s argument was not necessarily raised at the appropriate time, the issue was so important that the court ruled on the issue anyway.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was charged with several crimes related to the assault of a minor. Prior to his arrest, and before the police knew where the defendant was, they “pinged” a cell phone that had been used by the minor earlier in the day (by “pinging” a phone, police are able to get a general idea of where the phone is). The police were able to locate the defendant through the cell phone.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York robbery case involving a defendant who confessed to robbing a car at gunpoint. The case required the court to determine if the trial court properly excluded evidence suggesting that the defendant was “bipolar, with psychotic features.” Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence was properly excluded because under New York Code Article 250, notice of intent to provide psychiatric evidence must be given in advance.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was pulled over by police, and as a result of a search, the police discovered a loaded gun. After police seized the gun, the defendant blurted out that it was a good thing that the police officer quickly drew his gun because otherwise the defendant would have shot him. Police arrested the defendant and took him to a hospital to have him evaluated by a psychiatrist. The defendant was read his Miranda warnings and then admitted to taking the car at gunpoint.

After evaluating the defendant, the psychiatrist determined that the defendant was “bipolar, with psychotic features.” The defense hoped to use that diagnosis to explain why the defendant was not able to knowingly waive his Miranda rights and make the statement to police admitting to the robbery.

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When it comes to New York assault cases, or homicides there are a number of  defenses that someone charged with the offense can assert. An affirmative defense is a defense which the person accused of a crime has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence.  A defense, on the other hand must be disproved by the prosecution, beyond a reasonable doubt.  One of the most common defenses in New York aggravated assault cases is that of self-defense or as its called in New York Justification.  Justification is a defense that must be disproved by the prosecution.

In New York, NY Penal Law 35.15 governs self-defense claims. The statute also includes a defense for those acting in the defense of others. Specifically, that statute requires that the actor possess an honest and reasonable belief that they are facing unlawful physical force, or an imminent threat of unlawful physical force.

The statute thus creates two essential elements of a New York self-defense claim. First, the actor was subject to unlawful force, or the actor honestly had a fear that they were about to face unlawful force. However, even if the actor believes this to be the case, the statute also requires that their belief be a “reasonable” one. This introduces an objective element into the claim, essentially asking the judge or jury to determine whether the defendant’s fears were reasonable under the circumstances.

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