New York Court of Appeal Upholds Burglary Conviction, Rejects Challenge to Use of Annotated Exhibits During Final Argument

Technology has made our lives easier in many ways, but it has also raised novel issues regarding how technology can be used during a trial. As seasoned New York criminal defense attorneys, we are prepared to handle these new and developing issues and to ensure that they do not affect your right to a fair trial. As the following case demonstrates, having a prepared and informed lawyer at your side can make all of the difference.

In a recent appellate opinion, the Court of Appeal considered whether a prosecutor’s use of a PowerPoint presentation that contained annotated images of evidence and trial exhibits was permissible or whether it constituted a reversible error for the court to allow the prosecutor to use the presentation. The defendant was implicated in an attack in which several men broke into the victim’s apartment. The victim knew the defendant as fellow residents of the same neighborhood. According to the victim, the defendant shot him, cut him, and dumped bleach onto his head.

During trial, the prosecution submitted video evidence of the street and sidewalk where the victim lived that were obtained from the apartment building’s surveillance system. The victim testified that he was on the phone with his brother when the men broke in, and the brother testified at trial. During his testimony, the prosecution showed still photographs from the surveillance video. The brother offered additional testimony indicating that he was in the vicinity shortly before the attack and that he believed he saw the defendant as part of the group of men.

Before the jury began deliberations, the court instructed them that they were the sole finders of fact and that things the lawyers stated during final summations were not evidence. The prosecution used a PowerPoint display during summation that contained annotated images of trial exhibits, featuring circles, text, and arrows. The photographs had also been superimposed with phrases like “victim’s brother sees defendant.”

The defendant objected to the use of the presentation, and the trial court also voiced concerns about the potentially prejudicial effect of the slides. The court allowed the prosecution to continue as long as it did not show any additional superimposed words. The defense moved for a mistrial, and the lower court denied the motion. The defendant was convicted of burglary in the first degree, assault in the second degree, and criminal possession of a weapon.

The Appellate Division affirmed, finding that the presentation did not deprive him of his right to a fair trial. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, the court first noted that lawyers are permitted to use a broad range of statements and comments during final summations as long as they limit their references to matters properly admitted in evidence. In determining whether a lower court failed to properly curtail inappropriate statements during summation, the reviewing court examines whether the lower court took quick reparative action and instructed the jury on whether to disregard the statement. Applying that standard here, the appellate court concluded that the lower court took appropriate corrective actions and instructed the jury on how to interpret the superimposed images and statements. Also, the jury was provided with access to the unaltered exhibits during deliberations. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling and conviction.

If you are facing a criminal charge or involved in a criminal investigation, it is critical that you speak to a qualified criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. At Tilem & Associates, we proudly assist New York residents with a broad range of criminal matters, including gun crimes, drug crimes, assault and battery, and DWI. We offer a free consultation to help you learn more about your legal rights, so call us now at 1-877-377-8666 or contact us online to get started.

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