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Articles Posted in ASSAULT AND BATTERY

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One of the most common questions that we receive as New York criminal defense attorneys is, “How are jury members selected?” The law surrounding jury selection is very complex, as the following recent appellate opinion demonstrates. The central issue in this appeal was whether the lower court committed a reversible error when it did not allow defense counsel to question prospective jurors regarding their opinions about involuntary confessions. The defendant was charged with a number of crimes, including murder. The defendant provided verbal and written statements to the police indicating that he was involved with the shooting. The victim approached the defendant about a missing cell phone, and sometime after that, the defendant came back and threatened him with an ice pick, at which time the defendant pulled out a gun and shot at the victim while he fled. There were two eyewitnesses to the crime in addition to the defendant’s statements.

Before jury selection, the defendant asked if he could question jurors regarding their ability to understand legal rules applicable to involuntary statements. In response, the prosecution indicated that they had not decided whether they were going to offer the defendant’s statements during trial as evidence. As a result, the court denied the defendant’s request to question jurors on this subject. The court reasoned that if the prosecution did not use the statements, and the jury was questioned about their views on involuntary confessions, the jury might then engage in speculation regarding whether such statements existed. The court also concluded that the jurors would be able to understand that involuntary confessions were inadmissible for any purpose.

During trial, the prosecution admitted the defendant’s statements, and the jury ultimately concluded that the defendant was not guilty of murder in the second degree. Instead, they convicted him of manslaughter in the first degree. The defendant appealed, stating that the trial court erred when it failed to allow the defendant to question jurors about involuntary confessions. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, and the defendant appealed to the New York Court of Appeal.

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Understanding the roles that the court and the jury play in a criminal proceeding can be difficult. As seasoned New York criminal defense attorneys, we believe it is critical that our clients know the rules of law that may affect their trial. The following appellate opinion explains why it is critical to understand these rules and to have an attorney who is prepared to help you fight for the fair and impartial trial that you deserve.

In the case, the defendant was charged with two counts of coercion in the first degree for making physical threats against his former girlfriend and for threatening to ruin her business operation. The girlfriend had asked the defendant to move out of her apartment, and the defendant allegedly engaged in the threats to stay as a resident. The girlfriend reported the defendant’s threatening behavior to his parole officer, who arranged for the defendant’s arrest and incarceration. The defendant allegedly continued to engage in threatening behavior against the girlfriend from jail.

During trial, the defendant asked the court to instruct the jury regarding coercion in the second degree as a lesser-included offense of coercion in the first degree, arguing that the evidence could be construed as lacking indications that he engaged in the heinous conduct that usually characterizes the greater offense of coercion in the first degree. The lower court denied the request, finding that the charge of the lesser-included offense was not applicable, based on the record. The jury convicted the defendant of both counts of coercion in the first degree. The defendant appealed, and the Appellate Division concluded that the lower court did not err in failing to include the lesser coercion charge.

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