New York Criminal Case Emphasizes High Bar for Overly Prejudicial Evidence at Trial

In a recent case before the Appellate Division, Third Department in New York, the defendant appealed his convictions of aggravated family offense and criminal contempt in the second degree. The convictions were based on an incident during which the defendant violated a protective order in place against him and toward the victim in this case. The defendant pled not guilty, his case went to trial, and he appealed on the grounds that the trial court unreasonably let prejudicial evidence into the record during the proceedings. In its decision denying the appeal, the court highlighted the fact that even if the evidence was improper or prejudicial in some regard, it needed to rise to a higher level of prejudice to warrant the court’s granting the defendant’s appeal.

Underlying Facts and Trial Proceedings

This case arose when the defendant reached out to the victim in this case, despite there being a protective order in place prohibiting him from communicating with her by text, email, mail, or any other means. The defendant was criminally charged, and his case went to trial once he pled not guilty. During trial, the jury heard evidence both about the offense and about one of the defendant’s prior convictions. There was also evidence about the protection order itself, which the defendant violated when he was incarcerated by using a messaging service developed specifically for incarcerated individuals.

The jury found the defendant guilty, and he was sentenced to between 7 and 15 years in prison. He promptly appealed the decision.

Prejudicial Testimony

On appeal, the defendant’s argument that the testimony regarding his prior conviction, the protective order, and his incarceration was all prejudicial ultimately failed. According to the court, the evidence regarding the prior conviction and protective order were relevant for the jury, and jury members rightfully relied on this evidence when deciding whether the defendant was guilty. Regarding the defendant’s incarceration, the jury members needed this as background information to understand that the defendant used the messaging service meant for incarcerated individuals. What’s more, said the court, the trial judge specifically told the jury not to assume the defendant was guilty just because he was incarcerated.

Even though, then, this testimony was indeed somewhat prejudicial to the defendant, there was a purpose for all of it, and it did not rise to the level of “impairing the integrity” of the jury proceedings. Because of this, the court rejected the defendant’s argument and denied his appeal.

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