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Articles Posted in Violent Crimes

The US Constitution protects many rights of Americans accused of crimes. One of the critical protections of the Constitution is the confrontation clause. The Confrontation Clause is included in the 6th Amendment and states in pertinent part: “the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Enforcing the confrontation clause ensures that defendants are not convicted upon anonymous testimonies. Furthermore, the confrontation clause provides that a defendant or their attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses who offer testimony or evidence that the defendant is guilty of a crime.  Further, the confrontation clause prohibits the reliance on hearsay testimony to convict the accused.

Like most constitutional protections, the confrontation clause has its limits and exceptions, as evidenced by a recent New York Court of Appeals decision that affirmed a defendant’s murder conviction despite confrontation clause issues.

The defendant in the recently decided case was involved in a neighborhood fight with several acquaintances, when he allegedly went home, returned with a firearm, and shot into a crowd. Bullets fired by the defendant allegedly struck and killed a two-year-old child. Based on eyewitness testimony, authorities initially arrested another man for the crime. After further investigation and DNA analysis of clothing from the scene, police decided that the defendant was the actual shooter, and he was arrested and charged. The initial suspect quickly pleaded guilty to a gun charge and was released without any charges related to the murder.

In a recent opinion coming out of a New York court, the defendant unsuccessfully appealed his guilty conviction for manslaughter in the first degree. The defendant’s case emerged after he got into a physical altercation with another man. Following the altercation, police showed up at the scene and questioned the defendant extensively. Based on testimony from these officers as well as other people familiar with the incident, the defendant was found guilty. On appeal, he argued that the court had incorrectly instructed the jury on how to proceed in deciding his case. Disagreeing with the defendant, the court eventually affirmed the original verdict.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was charged with manslaughter in the first degree after he choked another person for several minutes with an intent to cause serious physical injury. After the incident, the defendant spoke to police officers and explicitly admitted that he had choked and strangled the victim. He later spoke with a friend and a cousin, who both testified during the trial that the defendant had admitted the crimes to them soon after.

At trial, the defendant testified that he only briefly grabbed the victim’s neck. According to the defendant, his only goal was to stop the victim from fighting him, and he was acting more out of self-defense than out of aggression.

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In a recent murder case coming out of a New York court, the defendant was partially successful in his appeal. Originally, the defendant was convicted of several crimes, including murder in the second degree, kidnapping in the first degree, burglary in the first degree, and attempted robbery in the first degree. On appeal, the defendant made many arguments, one of which was that incriminating evidence coming from his clothing should have been suppressed at trial. The court agreed with the defendant, ruling that the court should have suppressed the DNA evidence coming from his clothing.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, one evening in 2014, three men with masks forced themselves into an apartment and began shooting at the apartment’s residents. One of the residents was killed, and the three suspects promptly fled the scene.

The same evening, the defendant in this case was admitted to the emergency room with a gunshot wound in his leg. When an officer came to question him about the wound, the defendant said he needed to rest and would answer more questions at a later time. The officer left the room, taking a bag of the defendant’s clothing without permission as he left.

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In a recent case coming out of a New York court, the defendant’s appeal of his murder conviction was denied. In 2017, the defendant was convicted of murder in the second degree, assault in the second degree, aggravated criminal contempt, criminal contempt in the first degree, and assault in the third degree. Taking issue with his guilty verdict, the defendant appealed; however, the court rejected the defendant’s argument and affirmed his original convictions.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant and the victim were alone together in an apartment one evening. The pair were arguing at the time of the victim’s death, leading the jury to later infer that the defendant had some kind of motive to hurt the victim. After the death, a medical examiner conducted an autopsy on the victim’s body. That examiner discovered that the victim died from hemorrhages in her skull caused by blows to the head. She also had hemorrhages in her larynx, which would have been due to some kind of external compression. Additionally, the autopsy revealed that the victim had experienced fatal damage to her liver, which could have only come from blunt force trauma.

Reviewing this report from the medical examiner along with other evidence presented at trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of murdering the victim.

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An appellate court recently issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal of his New York murder conviction. At the core of the defendant’s appeal is whether the officers who took him into custody had probable cause to arrest him. Before the police officers took the defendant into custody, they interviewed several witnesses, including two accomplices. The witnesses stated that the defendant killed the victim. One of the witnesses stated that they overheard a call the defendant made to another person during the murder. The witness recounted that during the call, the defendant stated that he was killing the victim by strangulation. The witness further explained that he overheard the defendant state that the victim was bleeding but not dying. The defendant motioned to suppress the informant’s statements, and the court conducted a combined Huntley and Dunaway hearing.

In New York, defendants may argue various motions when they believe that police did not abide by the proper procedures to get evidence in the case.  Among the most common examples of motion to suppress hearings are Huntley and Dunaway hearings. Huntley hearings are proceedings to determine the admissibility of a defendant’s statement. During these proceedings, a criminal defendant’s attorney may argue that the defendant’s statements were made against their will due to pressure, threats, trickery, or without Miranda warnings. A Dunaway hearing is a motion to suppress evidence that authorities obtained from an illegal arrest or detention.

Arrests and detentions can stem from many different situations; in some cases, an officer witnesses a crime, and in other situations, someone reports the incident. The reporting individual may be a citizen informant, an anonymous tipster or an accomplice. Citizen informants are those that provide information and their identity, which constitutes the basis for probable cause. An anonymous tipster provides information about a crime but not information about themselves. Courts generally favor testimony from a citizen informant compared to that of an anonymous tipster. Anonymous informant’s tips often need substantiation and are often regarded as less reliable.  Tips from accomplices who are informing to curry favor with the prosecutor may similarly require corroboration.

Last month, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York attempted murder case, requiring the court to discuss the elements of an “attempt.” The court ultimately found that the defendant’s actions did not constitute an attempt, and vacated his conviction.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was incarcerated for alleged acts of domestic violence. While in jail, the defendant approached a fellow inmate who was going to be released soon. The defendant asked the inmate to kill his wife and mother-in-law. In exchange for this, the defendant promised to give him a home.

The inmate had no intention of carrying out the defendant’s request, but played along. He told the defendant that he could do it, and gave the defendant a phone number to reach him after his release. The defendant provided detailed instructions on how he wanted the inmate to kill his wife and mother-in-law.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York homicide case involving a defendant’s appeal of his conviction. The defendant appealed the lower court’s decision to admit his statement to police in the moments after the murder. However, the appellate court found that there was no error in admitting the statement. The court further explained that, if there was any error in admitting the statement, doing so was harmless.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was alleged to have killed another man, whom he met out on the street around 2 a.m. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was drinking beer with friends. Throughout the evening, the defendant expressed some violent thoughts, and discussed his gang membership.

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York manslaughter case, affirming the defendant’s conviction after dismissing his challenge to the way in which the prosecution obtained a sample of his DNA. In so doing, the court explained how law enforcement officials can legally obtain DNA evidence from a suspect who has yet to be charged with a crime.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, four men belonging to the gang, Young Gunnaz, drove a Gold Nissan into a rival gang’s territory. The person in the car’s passenger seat exited the vehicle and shot and killed a 16-year-old. The incident was caught by a surveillance camera, but no identification could be made from the footage.

Law enforcement tracked down the owner of the Gold Nissan, who became a cooperating witness. He identified the defendant as the shooter, and explained that, after the shooting, the men went back to their apartment building. The driver allowed the police to take a DNA sample from the car’s front passenger seat area.

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Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York attempted murder case stemming from a shooting outside an apartment complex. The court’s opinion discussed, among other issues, the defendant’s motion to suppress the identification of the defendant made by the complaining witness. Ultimately, the court concluded that, although there may have been issues with the witnesses’ identification of the defendant, because the witness knew the defendant from before the incident, the defendant’s constitutional rights were not adversely impacted.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, a man was shot outside his apartment complex on September 18, 2011. While at the hospital, the man told detectives that the person who shot him was known as “Chulo.” On two separate occasions, the witness identified the defendant from a single-photo, presented to him by a detective. Two years later, after the defendant’s arrest, the complaining witness identified the defendant again, this time in a double-blind sequential lineup.

Initially, the defendant challenged the procedures used during the double-blind lineup as suggestive. However, the court denied the defendant’s motion. Afterward, the defendant expanded his challenge to include the two previous identifications where the witness was only shown a single photograph. The trial court denied the defendant’s request, relying on the prosecution’s assurance that the witness knew the defendant. In response, the defendant requested a Rodriguez hearing, which involves questioning the witness outside the presence of the jury regarding his familiarity with the defendant. The judge denied the defendant’s request for a Rodriguez hearing, and a jury convicted the defendant, who then appealed.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York murder case involving the defendant’s challenge to the trial court’s substitution of a member of the jury. Specifically, the defendant claimed that the court failed to follow the proper procedure when determining the sitting juror’s unavailability.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant called 911 stating that he shot his brother. The defendant’s brother later died from his injuries, and the defendant was charged with murder and related charges.

The case proceeded to trial, and on the ninth day of trial, one of the jurors was absent. The juror explained that she had an important medical appointment for a family member. The court did not officially conduct a hearing into the juror’s absence and, without formally stating that the court was ordering the substitution, the court proceeded with an alternate juror. The court explained that it believed the juror mentioned the appointment during jury selection, however, that turned out not to be the case.

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