Court Awards New Trial to Defendant in New York Gun Case Based on Improperly Denied Jury Instruction

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a New York gun possession case, discussing the defendant’s claim that the lower court erred in failing to provide the jury with a requested instruction. Ultimately, the appellate court agreed with the defendant, awarding him a new trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, police received a call stating that a man was shot. Police arrived on the scene, and found the defendant, bleeding from the back of the neck. Police entered the apartment, and found two guns. One of the guns, a submachine gun, was in an open drawer.

Several officers testified, as did the defendant. The testimony of each of the witnesses varied; however, the prosecution claimed that the defendant gave different stories to the responding officers and hospital staff. The prosecution proceeded under the theory that the defendant constructively possessed the firearm.

The defendant testified that he was standing in the kitchen when he heard several gunshots. He ran into the bedroom, when he realized he had been shot. He opened a drawer, looking for a towel, where he saw a gun. He then ran to a neighbor’s home and asked them to call 911.

The defendant testified that he did not live at the apartment, but had planned to spend the night there because his aunt kicked him out of her home for fighting with his brother. There was varied testimony regarding the presence of blood on the gun, but police officers acknowledged that there was blood on the weapon. However, the lab technician did not recall seeing blood on the gun.

The defendant asked the court to instruct the jury on the “voluntariness” element of a possessory offense. The defendant claimed that, while evidence may have been sufficient to show that he had constructive possession over the weapon, he did not voluntarily exercise control over it. The court rejected the defendant’s request, and he was found guilty.

On appeal, the defendant claimed it was reversible error not to instruct the jury on voluntariness. The court agreed, explaining that, in any possessory offense, the prosecution must establish the defendant’s possession was both knowing and voluntary. The court noted that, given the unique circumstances of the incident, the defendant may have seen the weapon, but had no time to “terminate his possession.” If this was the case, the defendant could not be said to have “voluntarily” possessed the gun. Thus, the court held that the defendant was entitled to an instruction on voluntariness.

This case illustrates the importance of diligently reviewing all discovery, looking for conflicting testimony and knowing the applicable law.   Had the defendant not identified inconsistencies in the officers’ testimony, and asked for the specific jury instruction, the result may have been different.

Contact a Dedicated New York Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been arrested for a New York gun crime, reach out to Tilem & Associates for immediate assistance. Our team of criminal defense lawyers is known for aggressively defending our clients’ rights at every stage of the process. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 877-377-8666 today.

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