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Articles Posted in Violent Crimes

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York homicide case discussing the obligation that the prosecution has to disclose evidence to the defense. Ultimately, the court reversed the defendant’s murder conviction because it found that the prosecutions’ failure to provide video evidence undermined confidence in the jury’s verdict.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was convicted of murder. At the defendant’s trial, several eyewitnesses testified to seeing the defendant in the area immediately before the shooting. One witness identified the defendant as the shooter, but admitted that she only had a brief view of the side of the shooter’s face. The second witness saw the defendant and the victim in the vicinity of the shooting, but lost sight of the two men about a minute before the shooting. The third witness knew both the defendant and the victim, and testified that the defendant ran up to the victim, began arguing with him, and then shot him. The third witness had pending robbery charges against him, and was offered a deal in exchange for his testimony.

In his closing, defense counsel argued that there should have been a video of the shooting, given that it occurred outside an apartment building that had surveillance cameras visible. In his closing, the prosecutor noted that detectives were able to obtain video footage from nearby, and argued that it was “common sense” that if video footage of the apartment complex was available, it would have been presented.

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New York criminal defendants enjoy many important constitutional rights, one of which is the right to a jury drawn from a cross-section of society. In the 1986 United States Supreme Court case, Batson v. Kentucky, the Court determined that the defendant was deprived of his constitutional rights when the prosecution struck all black potential jurors from the jury panel, resulting in an all-white jury.

Since then, the Court has made it clear the prosecutors cannot use a potential juror’s race as a decision in whether to accept or reject that juror. In its most recent case discussing race in the jury-selection process, the Court again affirmed the principle that race should not be a consideration when selecting a jury.

This case involved a black man who was previously tried five times for the murder of four furniture store employees, three of whom were white. In the first three trials, the case either resulted in a mistrial based on the prosecution’s race-based jury-selection techniques or the jury’s verdict was reversed on appeal based on prosecutorial misconduct. The fourth and fifth trials resulted in hung juries. Thus, this time was the sixth time the state tried the defendant for murder.

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In May 2019, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York homicide case discussing whether the defendant was entitled to a justification, or self-defense, jury instruction. Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence presented did not support a justification charge, and it rejected the defendant’s claim to the contrary.

A justification charge informs the jury that it can find the defendant was justified in committing what would otherwise be considered a crime. Justification is a defense to a crime under New York Law.  Specifically, the charge explains that “a person may use physical force [if] he/she reasonably believes it to be necessary to defend himself/herself [or someone else] from what he/she reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of [unlawful] physical force by such individual.” A justification charge can be especially important in cases involving violent crimes.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant shot and killed his daughter’s boyfriend after the two were involved in a heated argument. Three witnesses testified at trial. Two of the witnesses testified to only viewing a brief portion of the argument. However, the third witness, a postal employee in the process of delivering mail, caught most of the argument.

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New York has one of the most draconian and burdensome knife laws in the Country and as we have reported over almost a decade in this blog many innocent people have been caught up in New York’s knife law maze.  Last week, however, after several prior attempts at changing the law, Governor Cuomo finally signed a law that will change New York’s knife laws.1142076_knife_1

The Problem

As we wrote as early as 2010, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office made a deal with several retailers in Manhattan, including Home Depot and other major retailers for them to pay a financial penalty and stop selling gravity knives in New York.  The problem was that these knives were being sold by companies who paid only a relatively small financial penalty while citizens, many african-american and latino youths were being arrested and given criminal records for buying these knives which were readily available.  In 2016, we wrote another blog about this problem after the Village Voice wrote an extensive article about it.  According to the Village Voice article, there had been as many as 60,000 arrests for gravity knives in the preceding 10 years which put gravity knives in the top 10 most prosecuted cases.  Village Voice analysis also seemed to indicate that a disproportionate number of African-Americans and Latinos were prosecuted for gravity knives.