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Articles Posted in CRIMINAL APPEALS

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One of the hallmarks of our criminal justice system that evidence of prior criminal conduct is not permitted to show a persons propensity or tendency to commit crimes.  Except in very limited circumstances evidence of prior criminal conduct is not permitted on the prosecutions direct case.  However, if a defendant chooses to testify the Court is required to hold a pre-trial hearing called a Sandoval hearing to determine in advance what if anything the prosecution can use to cross-examine the defendant about his criminal past.  The purpose of the hearing is to weigh and balance the People’s interest in testing the defendant’s credibility and the defendant’s interest in ensuring that he is not convicted because a jury heard about prejudicial prior criminal conduct.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York burglary case in which the court was tasked with determining if the defendant was entitled to a new trial when the prosecution brought up the fact that he had previously been convicted of a robbery that was currently in the process of being appealed. Ultimately, the court concluded that the lower court improperly allowed the defendant to be cross-examined regarding the prior robbery, and this error was not harmless. Thus, the court ordered a new trial to be conducted.  As we have reported in the past this is not the first case to be revered for such errors.  Please see our prior blog.

CourtroomThe Facts of the Case

During a trial for burglary, the defendant chose to testify on his own behalf, which is his constitutional right. After the defendant had finished answering the questions posed to him by his own attorney, the prosecution conducted cross-examination.

It was during this cross-examination that the prosecutor asked the defendant about a prior robbery conviction. Normally, evidence of prior criminal acts is not relevant at trial and may not be explored by the prosecution. However, under certain circumstances, convictions for crimes involving dishonesty – such as theft, robbery, etc. – may be the subject of cross-examination.  In addition, one who shows through their past criminal conduct that they are willing to put their interests over those of society’s may be more willing to do so again by lying under oath.

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Post-Judgment motions such as CPL 440.10 motions can be very important to a person already convicted in criminal cases.  Very often an appeal cannot address a problem that occurred at the trial such as a lying witness or ineffective assistance of counsel.  In such cases, a post-judgment motion may be the only solution.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York arson case discussing the defendant’s motion to vacate the judgment, which was denied by the trial court. The appellate court ultimately held that, given the uncontested evidence presented by the defendant in the motion, the lower court should have granted a hearing to determine if the defendant’s motion should have been granted.

ArsonThe Facts of the Case

The defendant was charged with first- and second-degree arson. Part of the state’s evidence against the defendant was the testimony of a witness who claimed that the defendant confessed to starting a house fire. After a trial, the defendant was convicted on both counts.

The defendant filed a motion to vacate the judgment and submitted an affidavit from the prosecution witness. The affidavit stated that the witness was told by a police investigator that if she testified on behalf of the defendant, the officer would take her daughter away from her. The witness explained that this was concerning to her. The state offered no contradictory evidence, but the trial court denied the defendant’s motion to vacate summarily, without conducting a hearing on the matter.

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New York speedy trial statutes can be very effective tools in fighting New York criminal cases ss we have discussed in several blogs.  Earlier this month, the New York Court of Appeals issued an opinion  dismissing a New York homicide case and discussing the defendant’s right to a speedy trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that the six-and-a-half year wait between the defendant’s arrest and his eventual guilty plea violated his constitutional right to a speedy trial. As a result, the court reversed the defendant’s guilty plea and dismissed the indictment.

Concertina WireThe Facts of the Case

The defendant, along with his co-defendant, was alleged to have shot and killed a 15-year-old. The defendant was the one who allegedly pulled the trigger, and the co-defendant acted as an accomplice. Both the defendant and his co-defendant were arrested shortly after the victim’s death, on May 28, 2008. The defendant was held without bail.

The prosecutor hoped that the co-defendant would testify against the defendant and delayed the trial several times while trying to work out a deal with the co-defendant. However, when asked at a later date, the co-defendant explained that he would never testify against the defendant, and he did not consider the offer seriously.

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Experienced criminal attorneys have long been aware of the inherent unreliability of cross racial identification.  Cross-racial identification is the eyewitness identification of a suspect in a  criminal case when the witness is a different race than the suspect.  Recently, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York robbery case involving the defendant’s challenge to the lower court’s refusal to instruct the jury on the unreliability of cross-racial identifications. The appellate court determined that the lower court was in error when it refused the defendant’s request, reversed the defendant’s conviction, and ordered that a new trial be granted.

The Facts of the CaseHandcuffs

The defendant was arrested after two white men reported being robbed at knife point. The facts of both robberies were similar, in that the alleged perpetrator approached the victim, asked the time, and then grabbed the victim’s cell phone when they pulled it out to see the time. Each of the victims told police that the man who had robbed them was African-American and about six feet tall.

After his arrest, the defendant was placed in a line-up with several other individuals. One of the victims picked the defendant out immediately. The other victim was unsure until the police instructed all of the men in the line-up to ask “what time is it?” at which point the defendant was identified. There was no physical evidence tying the defendant to the crimes.

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All defendants in New York criminal cases enjoy the right to have the assistance of competent counsel at all critical stages of the case against them. In a recent New York homicide opinion, the New York Court of Appeals determined that a trial judge denied a defendant the right to counsel when the judge asked the defendant to consent to a DNA test without the presence of his attorney.

DNA TestThe Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested and charged with homicide. At some point in the police investigation, biological evidence was located in the apartment where the homicide occurred. In an attempt to match the sample discovered in the apartment to the defendant, the prosecutor filed a motion to obtain a sample of the defendant’s DNA.

At the time the prosecutor made the request, the defendant was represented by counsel. However, shortly thereafter, the court excused counsel from the case. Later, the judge called the defendant in to discuss the DNA test.

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empty jury boxIf you are involved in a criminal matter, it is critical for your lawyer to provide you with diligent, experienced, and knowledgeable legal counsel. Although many lawyers take their duty seriously, some lawyers fail to provide their clients with appropriate representation. As a recognition of the impact that this can have on an individual’s rights, a defendant can appeal any judgment against him or her based on ineffective assistance of counsel. At Tilem & Associates, we pride ourselves on providing seasoned and compassionate legal counsel to parties involved in matters of New York criminal law, including individuals who are considering appealing their conviction based on prior representation.

A recent court opinion demonstrates how an ineffective assistance of counsel claim works. In the appeal, the prosecution claimed that the lower court made a reversible error when it held that the defendant’s lawyer engaged in ineffective assistance of counsel. The defendant was charged with aggravated harassment, stalking, and criminal contempt involving a situation between him and his landlord. The defendant was eventually tried before a jury. Because there were 14 counts charged against the defendant encompassing over 300 different types of conduct, the court made annotations next to each count listed on the verdict sheet with a date and description of the alleged criminal conduct.

After deliberations, the jury returned a verdict convicting the defendant on twelve counts and acquitting the jury on two counts. The defendant appealed, asserting that his attorney was ineffective in failing to object to the trial court’s annotations on the jury sheet. The appellate court agreed with the defendant and found that the annotations were highly inflammatory and extraneous information that provided undue support to the prosecution’s case. The appellate court reversed the convictions and the prosecution appealed.

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New York criminal lawyers understand that a conspiracy to commit a crime requires that the defendant agree with one or more other person to commit the crime.  Earlier this month, New York’s highest court issued a written opinion in a New York criminal case involving allegations that the defendant was guilty of committing conspiracy in the second degree. The case required the court to review the defendant’s actions leading up to the crime and determine if they constituted a conspiracy and tested the minimum limits of acceptable proof to establish a New York conspiracy. Finding that the defendant’s mere presence at the scene of gang meet-ups was insufficient to establish a conspiracy to commit a crime, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

ArsonConspiracy in New York Courts

In New York, when more than one person work together to commit a crime, they can each be held individually liable for the ultimate result. Thus, even if someone has only a minor role in the planning or execution of a crime, that defendant can be punished as though he committed the crime on his own.

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juror boxAs we have been discussing in previous blogs, there are many different issues that can arise in the jury selection process. The main objective is to ensure that the jurors who are selected for the trial will act without bias and that they will be able to apply the law in an objective manner. As seasoned New York criminal defense lawyers, the attorneys at Tilem & Associates have handled many trials and jury selections. We know how important it is to understand the rules of jury selection and how critical it is to ensure that you receive an appropriate and unbiased panel of jurors.

Recently, a New York appellate court considered the role that a juror’s skin color may play in the jury selection process. The court was asked to determine whether a juror’s skin color is a sufficient basis for challenging a prosecutor’s use of a peremptory strike to remove that juror. A peremptory strike describes the right of either party to challenge the selection of a juror without having to provide a reason for wanting to excuse that prospective juror. During the jury selection process, each side has a certain number of peremptory strikes that they are allowed to use. The parties are allowed to assert an unlimited number of challenges to jurors when the parties provide just cause for wanting to excuse that juror.

The United States Supreme Court has held, however, that peremptory strikes cannot be used to dismiss a juror based on his or her skin color or gender. If a party believes that the other side is using peremptory strikes to dismiss jurors based on skin color or gender, the party can challenge the other side’s peremptory strike, particularly when the challenging party believes that the other party is engaging in discrimination. The challenging party has the burden of making a prima facie showing that the other party used peremptory challenges to exclude jurors based on skin color.

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Man on PhoneOne of the most critical phases of a trial is providing instructions to the jury before deliberation. There are form jury instructions that the judge can use, but the parties are also allowed to offer suggested jury instructions. The type of instructions that the jury receives can have a serious impact on the ultimate verdict that they return. Additionally, if you believe an error was made during jury instructions, it is critical that you object to it on the record so that you can later appeal the matter. At Tilem & Associates, our team of New York criminal defense lawyers has guided numerous clients through the jury instruction phase.

A recent New York appellate opinion discusses alleged errors in jury instructions. The defendant was charged with a number of crimes, including coercion involving his ex-girlfriend. The defendant was accused of making physical threats against the former girlfriend and threatening to ruin a business that she operated after the girlfriend asked the defendant to move out of her apartment. The defendant allegedly made these threats in an attempt to stay at the apartment. The defendant was on parole at the time he made these threats, so the girlfriend reported the threatening conduct to his parole officer. The parole officer then had the defendant arrested. Evidence at trial suggested that the defendant continued to make threats against his ex-girlfriend while he was in prison.

During trial, the defendant asked the judge to instruct the jury on coercion in the second degree as a lesser-included offense of coercion in the first degree. In making this request, the defendant asserted that his conduct did not rise to the level of heinousness contemplated by coercion in the first degree. The trial court denied his request. At the close of trial, the jury returned a verdict convicting the defendant of coercion in the first degree on two counts. The defendant appealed.

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empty jury boxAs we discussed in our previous blog, if you are involved in a criminal trial, one of the most crucial steps is selecting the jurors. There are many rules that apply to this part of the legal process, and it is crucial to make sure you protect your right to a fair and unbiased jury. As seasoned New York criminal defense lawyers, the trial attorneys at Tilem & Associates have guided many individuals through the jury selection process and their case in general.

A recent New York appellate opinion discusses a case involving a jury dismissal issue. The defendant was facing criminal charges in connection with the death of a five-year-old. During the jury selection phase, defense counsel questioned one of the prospective jurors regarding whether or not he or she had issues with the fact that the case involved the death of a toddler. The juror indicated that he could not be impartial because of the victim. Another juror indicated that he also felt he could not be impartial. The defense counsel asked the jurors whether they agreed that the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt was on the prosecution. The jurors all agreed, including the two jurors who indicated that they did not believe they could remain impartial. The defense counsel then asked whether the jurors would have trouble finding the defendant not guilty if the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof. One of the jurors who showed initial hesitation expressed doubt about this question.

The trial court then asked the doubtful jurors a series of questions to determine their ability to be unbiased and to apply the law fairly. Based on this examination, the court dismissed one of the jurors. Defense counsel asked the court to dismiss the other doubtful juror, but the court denied this motion. Defense counsel then used one of their peremptory challenges to dismiss the juror. The case proceeded, and the defendant eventually appealed the judgment.

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