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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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New York DWI lawyers have been following a landmark ruling issued earlier this month, when a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York DUI case which determined whether the lower courts properly excluded the results of a breath test indicating that the defendant’s blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit. The court ultimately determined that the warnings provided to the defendant were not correct, and thus the court could not say that he voluntarily consented to the test.  This was a critical decision from New York’s highest Court, the Court  of Appeals, which interpreted the extent of New York’s “two hour rule” for chemical tests in DWI cases.

Police SirensThe Facts of the Case

The defendant was pulled over and arrested on various charges, including driving under the influence of alcohol. About two hours after his arrest, a police officer asked the defendant if he would consent to a breath test. The defendant refused the test, and the officer read the defendant refusal warnings.

The refusal warnings provided by the officer stated that the defendant’s license would be suspended or revoked, regardless of whether he was ultimately convicted of driving under the influence. The police officer also explained to the defendant that the fact that he refused the breath test could be used against him at trial. The defendant then agreed to take the test, which indicated that his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit.

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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”.

FilesA 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.

Document ReviewThe 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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