When juries are given the ability to determine a defendant’s guilt, the stigma of the crimes alleged sometimes plays a larger factor in the jury’s decision than evaluation of the required elements of the crime. Because of this, it is extremely important in the administration of criminal justice that juries are only allowed to convict defendants of crimes that are legally possible based upon the allegations of the criminal complaint and the evidence presented at trial. The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court recently addressed a defendant’s appeal from several New York sex crime convictions, which claimed the evidence against him was legally insufficient to support the convictions.
The defendant in the recently decided case was convicted of first degree sexual abuse after he allegedly made sexual contact with the victim without their consent. Before the trial, the defendant objected to being tried for first-degree sexual abuse, as that charge required a showing that force or compulsion was used to affect the sexual abuse. Additionally, the defendant appealed a conviction for first-degree sexual assault that was handed down based upon his touching two parts of the victim’s body during the same occurrence. The defendant’s pretrial motions were denied, and the defendant was ultimately convicted of the crimes, along with several others stemming from the same criminal episode.
The defendant appealed his convictions to the Appellate Division, arguing that the evidence presented at trial was legally insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant subjected the victim to sexual abuse using forcible compulsion. The Appellate Division agreed with the defendant’s arguments, finding that there was not any evidence presented at trial with which a jury could find that forcible compulsion was used. The Appellate Division reduced this conviction to a third-degree sexual assault, which was supported by ample evidence presented at trial. Additionally, the court found that the two separate counts stemming from the same occurrence should not have resulted in two convictions and vacated one of the convictions outright. The defendant’s other arguments were rejected by the court.