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Articles Posted in EVIDENTIARY ISSUES

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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Character evidence is one of the most misunderstood types of evidence available.  It is also evidence that can backfire on the party calling the witness.  As a rule, all relevant evidence is admissible in New York criminal trials. Relevant evidence is defined as evidence “having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the proceeding” more or less likely. However, the general rule that all relevant evidence is admissible is subject to many exceptions.

One type of evidence that may intuitively seem like it would be admissible in a criminal trial, but is generally excluded from evidence, is evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts. This includes both charged and uncharged crimes. Under the New York evidentiary rules, prior bad acts are “not admissible to prove that the person acted in conformity therewith on a particular occasion or had a propensity to engage in a wrongful act or acts. Essentially, this means that the government cannot use evidence of past crimes or wrongs to prove that a defendant was more likely to have committed the charged crimes there may however be other reasons why such prior crimes are admissible. This is why, absent a few exceptions, a defendant’s criminal history is not admissible if the defendant does not testify at the trial.

Evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts, however, can be admissible in some situations where the government is introducing the evidence for a permissible purpose; for example to establish motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, common scheme or plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake or accident. A recent case illustrates how New York courts handle this issue.

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A state court recently issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case requiring the court to determine if a gun found in the defendant’s motor home was the product of an illegal search. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant’s motorhome was afforded the same protection as any other residence, and that the warrantless search was not justified.

The Facts of the Case

Police received a call that someone was stealing electricity by connecting their motorhome up to a telephone wire. Police responded to the scene to see the defendant’s motorhome connected to a nearby telephone pole by a wire coming out of the top of the motorhome.

According to police, an officer knocked on the door of the motorhome. When the defendant answered, police asked him about the wire, and the defendant admitted it was not legal. Police then put the defendant in handcuffs and walked him toward the police car. On the way to the car, police claimed that the defendant said “there is a gun in there.” Another officer then went into the motorhome, located the gun, and confiscated it.

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Late last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York DUI case requiring the court to determine if the police officer that stopped the defendant possessed probable cause to do so. Ultimately, the court concluded that the police officer did not have probable cause to stop the defendant’s vehicle for a traffic stop after hearing his tires squeal as he pulled away from an intersection. Thus, the court held that the defendant’s motion to suppress should be granted.

The Facts of the Case

A police officer was on patrol around 2:30 in the morning. The area bars had just closed, and there were a number of pedestrians in the area. While waiting at an intersection, the police officer noticed that as the light turned green, the tires on the defendant’s vehicle squealed as he pulled away from an intersection at a quick pace.

The police officer decided to pull over the defendant based on his screeching tires and rate of acceleration. At the officer’s request, the defendant provided his driver’s license and explained that he was on his way home from work. He told the officer that he did not know why he was pulled over, and the officer informed him of the basis for the traffic stop.

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Earlier this month, the United States Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a robbery case requiring the court to determine whether the police should have obtained a warrant prior to obtaining the defendant’s cell phone location data. Ultimately, the court concluded that the level of intrusion in obtaining cell phone location data amounts to a “search” under the Fourth Amendment and should be supported by probable cause.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was arrested after police obtained his cell phone number from another man who was arrested under suspicion of a string of burglaries. The police had no evidence other than this man’s word that the defendant was involved in the robberies.

Taking the defendant’s cell phone number, the police contacted the defendant’s cell carrier and obtained historical location data over a 127-day range. The information contained approximately 100 data points per day, for a total of nearly 13,000 data points. The historical location data showed the defendant around the area where the robberies occurred, corroborating the man’s statement that the defendant was involved in the crimes.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York drug possession case, reversing a lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion to suppress and holding that the prosecution failed to meet its burden to establish that the defendant’s arrest was legal. In so holding, the court discussed when the prosecution must establish the reliability of information that was given to police.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was pulled over for two minor traffic offenses by two Syracuse police officers. During the traffic stop, the officers received information that the defendant had an outstanding warrant out of Cortland. One of the officers then contacted the 911 Center, which verified that the defendant had an active warrant. The 911 Center then requested that the police officers detain the defendant until one of their officers could take him into custody.

New York criminal trial lawyers know that New York criminal trials are all governed by the New York Rules of Evidence (NYRE). The NYRE cover which evidence is admissible and how courts should go about determining whether contested evidence should be admitted and presented to the jury. Given the importance of the matter, many New York criminal trials involve lengthy and detailed arguments about which evidence is admissible in a series of pre-trial motions.

Through either a motion in limine or a motion to suppress, parties are able to deal with evidentiary issues in advance of them arising at trial. This has the benefit of preventing the jury from ever hearing certain evidence, rather than objecting to the evidence as it arises and then relying on a curative instruction given by the judge in hopes of preventing the inadmissible evidence from having an effect on the jury’s decision.

Not all evidentiary issues can be resolved in advance of trial, however. In some cases, a witness testifies to an unanticipated fact. In these situations, an experienced criminal defense attorney must object in a timely manner, state the basis of the objection, and be prepared to argue why the objection should be sustained and the testimony stricken. If a defendant fails to object to certain evidence, including witness testimony, in a timely manner, the issue will be waived for appellate review. A recent court opinion in a New York sex crime case alleging the defendant engaged in predatory sexual assault illustrates several common evidentiary issues.

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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.

The 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.

The 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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