New York Court Denies Defendant’s Appeal in Case Revolving Around Aggravated Family Offense

In a recent case before the Appellate Division, Fourth Department in New York, the defendant took issue with the trial court’s denial of his motion for a mistrial. In his appeal, the defendant argued that the lower court made a prejudicial decision in denying his motion, and the decision should therefore be reconsidered. The higher court reviewed the defendant’s argument and ultimately disagreed; the court did, however, decide that the trial court unfairly sentenced the defendant, and it lowered the defendant’s overall sentence as a result.

Background of the Case

The defendant was convicted of four counts of aggravated family offense, meaning a jury found that he violated a no-contact order that was in place in favor of the mother of the defendant’s children. After the jury returned a guilty verdict, the defendant filed a motion for a mistrial, arguing that part of the admitted testimony was inappropriate and prejudicial.

During the proceedings, the individual that had obtained the no-contact order against the defendant (called the “complainant”) testified on the stand about how the defendant had strangled her in front of their children. The defendant objected on the grounds that this was improper testimony. The trial court judge agreed, and while the opinion did not describe why this testimony was improper, both the defendant and the trial court’s judge agreed that it was inadmissible. Having that the testimony was not helpful for the jury in deciding whether to find the defendant guilty, the judge instructed the jury to disregard the testimony from the complainant.
The basis of the defendant’s motion, then, was that the judge did not do enough to fix the problem that the jury heard this prejudicial testimony, and that the jury was therefore biased against him.

The Court’s Decision

The higher court reviewed the trial court’s decision to deny the motion for a mistrial. According to the trial court, it was sufficient to simply tell the jury not to consider the complainant’s testimony when coming up with a decision. On appeal, the higher court agreed.

It was the trial court’s decision, said the higher court, whether to either grant the defendant’s motion and give him an entirely new trial or whether to simply tell the jury to disregard the inadmissible testimony. Because the jury seemed to follow the judge’s instruction to disregard this testimony, there was no significant error to the defendant. Therefore, the trial court’s decision not to grant the motion for a mistrial was valid.
The higher court did, however, end up finding that the trial court sentenced the defendant too harshly once the jury found him guilty. The court therefore modified the judgment and lowered the defendant’s sentence in this case.

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