As experienced New York Criminal Trial lawyers we understand the risks and potential hazards of going to trial as well as the uncertainty associated with any criminal trial. However, in a recent felony trial that we conducted in Westchester County Court charging six counts of felony assault, some evidence surprised even the most seasoned people in the courthouse and the verdict, finding the client not guilty on the four most serious assault charges and only guilty on two less serious charges, also surprised many.
The Felony Assault charges included two counts each of Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer, Assault in the First Degree and Assault on a Police Officer and all stemmed from an incident where the motorist as he was stopped at a type of roadblock put the car in reverse and dragged a police officer for some distance and struck another police officer standing near the car. It was undisputed that both police officers were very seriously injured and it is also undisputed that two years later one police officer has not yet been able to return to work as a police officer.
At the roadblock were three police officers; the two that were seriously injured and a third who immediately took control of the crime scene. On day one of the trial, the police officer at the scene who was not injured took the stand and identified “crime scene” photos that show that the police sergeant who was dragged lost a lot of his equipment as the car sped in reverse with the Sergeant stuck under the driver’s side door. The Officer at the scene was showed and identified both photographs of the scene where the equipment was found and the actual equipment which included a flashlight, handcuffs and a magazine pouch.
The next day the sergeant came in and also identified the photographs and the equipment. After identifying his magazine pouch, his flashlight and his handcuffs, the sergeant was shown his gun belt and asked to identify it and the various pouches and containers on the belt. The Sergeant volunteered to put on the belt in front of the jury and demonstrate how he wore it and where the flashlight, magazine pouch and handcuffs would normally be kept. When the sergeant was asked about where he kept his handcuffs he showed a pouch on his gun belt and he opened it. As he did the prosecutor asked, “its empty of course?” But it was not. To the surprise of the sergeant, the judge, the prosecutor and the jurors there was a pair of handcuffs that had obviously remained in the pouch since the night of the incident.
The handcuffs that two witnesses, the first police officer and the sergeant, had identified as being the sergeant’s handcuffs while they were both testifying under oath, at a jury trial, were in fact not his. The testimony, whether deliberately false or not, was false, and the jury saw it because it happened right in front of them. The question of why there was a random pair of handcuffs lying on the side of a rural road was never answered at the trial and probably never will be. Did someone deliberately try to doctor a crime scene? Did another police officer at the scene lose his handcuffs? Were the handcuffs lost by someone on the side of the road previously? These all seem like strange possibilities but in the end we will probably never know what happened or where these handcuffs came from.
At the conclusion of the trial the driver was found not guilty of two counts each of Assault in the First Degree and Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer but found guilty of the two counts of the lesser count of Assault on a Police officer. Jury trials can be very uncertain and experienced trial lawyers know that anything can happen at a jury trial. This case certainly proved that thesis.