New York Appellate Court Finds Trial Judge Should Have Had Hearing on Defendant’s Motion to Vacate Judgment Based on Uncontested Witness Affidavit

Post-Judgment motions such as CPL 440.10 motions can be very important to a person already convicted in criminal cases.  Very often an appeal cannot address a problem that occurred at the trial such as a lying witness or ineffective assistance of counsel.  In such cases, a post-judgment motion may be the only solution.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York arson case discussing the defendant’s motion to vacate the judgment, which was denied by the trial court. The appellate court ultimately held that, given the uncontested evidence presented by the defendant in the motion, the lower court should have granted a hearing to determine if the defendant’s motion should have been granted.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was charged with first- and second-degree arson. Part of the state’s evidence against the defendant was the testimony of a witness who claimed that the defendant confessed to starting a house fire. After a trial, the defendant was convicted on both counts.

The defendant filed a motion to vacate the judgment and submitted an affidavit from the prosecution witness. The affidavit stated that the witness was told by a police investigator that if she testified on behalf of the defendant, the officer would take her daughter away from her. The witness explained that this was concerning to her. The state offered no contradictory evidence, but the trial court denied the defendant’s motion to vacate summarily, without conducting a hearing on the matter.

The defendant then filed an appeal, raising several issues. One of the issues raised was that the trial court erred in failing to grant a hearing on his motion to vacate the judgment against him based on the affidavit from the prosecution witness.

The Court’s Opinion

The court agreed with the defendant and ordered the lower court to hold a hearing to determine whether the defendant’s motion should be granted. The court explained that the witness’ testimony formed the basis of the prosecution’s case against the defendant for the second-degree arson charge. That being the case, the fact that the witness recanted in an affidavit could have resulted in the defendant having been convicted on false information.

Motions to Vacate a Judgment

Under New York Consolidated Laws section 440.10, a judge has the authority to grant a defendant’s motion to vacate a judgment in certain circumstances. A few of these situations are when:

  • Material evidence was known to be false by either the judge or the prosecutor;
  • Material evidence used by the prosecution was obtained in violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights;
  • Newly discovered evidence that was not discoverable prior to trial was discovered; or
  • The judgment was obtained by duress, misrepresentation, or fraud on the part of the prosecutor.

Have You Been Convicted of a New York Criminal Offense?

It is important that defendants understand their rights before, during, and after trial. At the New York criminal defense law firm of Tilem & Associates, we provide zealous representation to our clients from the inception of their case up through the verdict and appeal, if necessary. We are prepared to file post-trial motions to preserve your rights and will not hesitate to bring official misconduct to light. To learn more, call 877-377-8666 to schedule your free consultation today.

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