Articles Posted in CRIMINAL APPEALS

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empty witness standIn a recent New York appellate decision, the defendant challenged a conviction of first-degree assault, claiming that he was deprived of a fair trial because he was not afforded his constitutional right of confrontation. The defendant was tried before a jury regarding an incident involving an assault on his estranged wife’s romantic partner. The victim testified that while he was hailing a cab in New York with the defendant’s estranged wife and child, he was stabbed from behind several times. During the incident, the victim identified the attacker as the defendant.

The prosecution was unable to locate the wife to provide testimony regarding the incident. Instead, it informed the court that while the wife identified the defendant as the attacker when talking to the police, she informed the prosecutor preceding the trial that she did not want to testify and that she did not recall seeing the defendant during the attack. The prosecution wished to have a detective testify regarding the wife’s statements following the incident, but the defendant objected, claiming that this would be extremely prejudicial to the defendant’s case because he would not have an opportunity to cross-examine the wife about the statements she made to the police. In response, the trial court rejected the prosecution’s request to have the law enforcement official testify. The court also noted that the wife’s absence would be prejudicial because the jury would infer that her testimony would likely be harmful to the defendant’s case. To address these potential outcomes, the court instructed the jury that the wife was “unavailable and, therefore, could not be called as a witness.”

Following testimony from the victim, the prosecution called a detective as a witness, who indicated that he interviewed the wife immediately following the incident and that she identified the defendant as the perpetrator. The defendant objected to this commentary, stating that it made an improper implication to the jury regarding what the wife would or would not testify if she were present. The defendant also moved for a mistrial, but the court rejected this request and instead instructed the jury to not draw any inferences from the testimony.

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New York has banned the possession of stun guns by listing them as “per se” weapons in the Penal Law. Possession by a civilian even in a person’s home constitutes Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Fourth Degree, a class “A” misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail. There is no license available for civilians to be able to possess stun guns. Rather New York, like Massachusetts and New Jersey have a total ban on civilian possession of stun guns. However, last month, in the first Second Amendment case decided by the Supreme Court in years and in a stunning rebuke of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the United States Supreme Court struck down Massachusetts’ total ban on stun guns and found that stun guns, like any “bearable arms” are subject to the protections of the Second Amendment.

In Heller, in 2008 the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment “extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” Bearable arms, is a very broad term that encompasses much more than firearms which are the usual focus of Second Amendment jurisprudence thanks in large part to the National Rifle Association and other similar groups. As a result of the focus on firearms very little has been written about other “bearable arms.” Two years later in McDonald, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment is fully applicable to the States.

In the case of CAETANO v. MASSACHUSETTS, decided last month by the US Supreme Court, the Court criticized the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts’ analysis of the Massachusetts stun gun ban. The Massachusetts high court offered three explanations for why stun guns were not protected by the Second Amendment and the US high court rebuked them for each one explaining that each reason given was inconsistent with the Heller decision. First, the Massachusetts Court tried to explain that Stun Guns were not in general use at the time of ratification of the Second Amendment despite the fact that Heller specifically rejected that argument in 2008. Next the Massachusetts Court argued that Stun Guns were not adaptable for military use another argument specifically rejected in Heller. Lastly, the Massachusetts Court suggested that Stun Guns were an unusual weapon an argument that the Supreme Court equated with the first argument that they were not around during the time of ratification of the Second Amendment.

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Recently we reported in our blog that a DWI conviction was vacated on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel where the lawyer simply had his client plead guilty to Driving While Intoxicated without conducting an investigation into the evidence in the case. Now, just last week, the United States Supreme Court reversed a conviction where a defense attorney neglected to tell the defendant about a plea offer and the defendant was later sentenced to a much more lengthy prison sentence than he would have gotten if he accepted the plea deal.

In the case of Missouri v. Frye the United States Supreme Court for the first time recognized that the 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures that a defendant’s right to effective representation extends to the plea bargain process and that if the lawyer is ineffective during the plea bargain process, the defendant may be entitled to reversal of his conviction.

In the Frye case, Galin Frye was accused of driving with a revoked license. Since he had been convicted of this same offense three times in the past he was facing a felony charge which carries up to 4 years in prison. During the pendency of the case, the prosecutor told Frye’s lawyer that Frye could plead guilty to a misdemeanor and receive a sentence of 90 days. Frye’s lawyer never conveyed that offer to him and he subsequently plead guilty and received three years in prison. On appeal Galin Frye argued that that we was denied his right to counsel because of ineffective of assistance of counsel. His conviction was reversed.

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The New York State Appellate Court sitting in Brooklyn ordered a new trial for Anthony DiPippo who was convicted of rape and murder back in 1997. It was since discovered that Mr. DiPippo’s attorney in 1997 had a conflict of interest which denied Mr. DiPippo effective assistance of counsel. Attorneys for Mr. DiPippo brought a motion to vacate his conviction before County Court Judge Robert Neary who denied the motion but the Appellate Division, Second Department overturned Judge Neary’s decision after learning about the conflict. This marks the second time Judge Neary has been reversed by the Appellate Division in decisions published in the New York Law Journal in the last six months. Please see our previous blog for details on the prior reversal.

Mr. DiPippo was represented at trial by an attorney named Robert Leader who had previously represented Howard Gombert in an unrelated rape. During Mr. DePippo’s trial it became clear that Mr. Gombert was also a suspect in this murder and rape but Mr. Leader failed to disclose his obvious conflict of interest. Despite his assertions that he attempted to introduce photographs of Mr. Gombert’s car at the trial of Mr. DiPippo, the Appellate Division noted that the trial transcript didn’t contain any reference to the admission of the photos.

The right to counsel, that is the right to an attorney which guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution not only requires that a defendant in a criminal trial have an attorney but it further requires that the defendant has an EFFECTIVE attorney. If you or a loved one believes that you have been denied effective legal representation, please contact our office.

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The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, Second Department unanimously overturned a Murder conviction from Nassau County because the trial Court committed a series of errors which combined to deny the defendant a fair trial. In People v. Terraine Slide the Court ruled that permitting the prosecutor to ask the defendant about his prior arrests for Marijuana and Shoplifting without giving a “limiting instruction” combined with additional errors deprived the defendant of a fair trial. Generally, a prosecutor may only use prior bad acts to cross-examine a defendant for the limited purpose of impeaching the defendant’s credibility. The jury is generally instructed that they may consider the evidence only for that limited purpose and not to show a propensity by the defendant toward committing crimes.

In addition, Judges are required to hold a Sandoval hearing prior to trial to determine what if any prior bad acts may be used to cross-examine the defendant. The concern is that jurors will hear about a defendant’s criminal record and convict him based upon his record and not the evidence of guilt.

In the Slide case, the prosecutor asked the defendant about his mother’s incarceration which was clearly irrelevant and which tended to insinuate that he had a genetic predisposition to commit crimes. Although a motion for a mistrial was made, it was denied by the trial Court.

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In a unanimous ruling, issued yesterday and reported on the front page of today’s New York Law Journal, the Appellate Division unanimously revered the conviction of a carjacker who had been sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison because of repeated, improper comments made to a criminal defense lawyer in front of the jury. Judge Neary, who spent 28 years as a Westchester County Assistant District Attorney before becoming a judge was recently transferred from Westchester to the Bronx Court. The case in question stemmed from a trial in the Bronx.

Judge Neary, according to the Appellate Court decision referred to the defense attorney’s line of questioning at one point in the trial as “silly” and “irrelevant”. During summation, Judge Neary at one point told the defense attorney “you are turning this into a comedy and its not.”

“Most egregiously, however, when defense counsel objected during the People’s summation, the court did not merely overrule the objection, but stated: ‘Would you please behave like a professional, please and not like a clown.’ “People v. Leggett, 2869 3401/07, NYLJ 1202472024104 at 4 (App. Div. 1st, Decided September 14, 2010).

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According to today’s newspapers the NYPD Cop accused of killing a woman while driving in an intoxicated condition, had a blood alcohol content of 0.0 indicating that no alcohol was present in the officers blood seven hours after the incident. The blood was not drawn for seven hours after the accident. As discussed in my previous blog, New York drivers arrested for DWI have the right to refuse to take a chemical test. The result of the blood test substantially weakens the case against the officer who is accused of killing the woman while driving drunk.

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Currently, Tilem & Campbell has one appeal pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit challenging the constitutionality of the previously discussed 100:1 powder cocaine v. crack cocaine sentencing discrepancy. Tilem & Campbell has another Federal Narcotics case for which it is preparing the appeal now. Among other arguments, we have presented an Equal Protection argument centered on the unequal sentences imposed on crack offenders as compared to powder cocaine offenders.

Every day that a crack offender spends in prison beyond that which a powder cocaine offender would spend for the same quantity of drug is an unconstitutional deprivation of liberty; a fundamental right. Such sentencing discrepancies cannot survive a rational basis analysis let alone a strict scrutiny analysis.

The above-discussed “100-to-1 ratio yields sentences for crack offenses three to six times longer than those for powder offenses involving equal amounts of drugs.” Kimbrough v. U.S. 128 S.Ct. 558 (2007). As a result of this disparity, “a major supplier of powder cocaine may receive a shorter sentence than a low-level dealer who buys powder from the supplier but then converts it to crack.” Id.

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As experienced New York and Federal criminal defense lawyers, we keep track of changes and proposed changes in the law that may effect our clients. When appropriate, and as part of the effort of our effort, though this blog to educate the public, our clients and our friends, we post proposed changes in the law here, in our blog.

Congress is taking notice to the injustice associated with the previously discussed 100:1 ratio crack cocaine vs powder cocaine sentencing disparity. At least 6 Bills in 2007 and 1 in 2008 were proposed by both Democrats and Republicans that would in some way reduce or eliminate the 100:1 cocaine/cocaine base ratio. These proposed Bills include:

H.R. 5035, the Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2008: Eliminates mandatory minimums for cocaine offenses. On January 17, Rep. Robert “Bobby” C. Scott (D-Va.), who is Chairman of the House Committed on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security and also serves on the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, introduced H.R. 5035, The Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2008. The bill would, among other things, eliminate the distinction between powder cocaine and cocaine base (crack) and eliminate all mandatory cocaine sentences. This bill is the first bill introduced in the House in the 110th Congress that would eliminate mandatory minimums for crack and powder cocaine sentences.

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The case of Blakely v. Washington decided in 2004, significantly changed New York and Federal sentencing and substantially altered the way experienced criminal defense lawyers handled their most serious cases. It also led to the change in the once mandatory federal sentencing guidelines to a system that is now now merely advisory.

In Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296, 124 S.Ct. 2531, Ralph Blakely pleaded guilty in a Washington State Superior Court to kidnapping his estranged wife. The statutory maximum for the offense Blakely pleaded guilty to was 53 months. The sentencing judge, however, sentenced Blakely to 90 months – more than three years above the 53 month maximum – finding that Blakely acted with deliberate cruelty. Note, Blakely never admitted to acting with deliberate cruelty nor did a jury find that he did so beyond a reasonable doubt.

Blakely appealed to the Washington Court of Appeals which rejected his argument that Washington’s sentencing procedure which allowed sentence enhancements above the statutory maximum based upon judicial determinations deprived him of his federal constitutional right to have all facts legally essential to his sentence determined by a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The Washington Supreme Court denied discretionary review. The United Supreme Court granted certiorari (agreed to hear the case) and ultimately found the Washington State sentencing procedure unconstitutional.