New York Murder Defendant Unsuccessfully Argues that Trial Court Violated His Right to Confrontation

Recently, a defendant in New York charged with murder in the second degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree appealed his guilty verdict and related sentence. The defendant argued before the Appellate Court that parts of his trial were unfair; namely, the testimony offered about the murder victim’s cause of death violated his constitutional right to cross-examine the witness. Looking at the record of the case, the Appellate Court disagreed and ultimately denied the defendant’s appeal.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was criminally charged after investigators tracked him down in 2015. The investigators were looking for an individual connected to the shooting death of an unarmed man in Brooklyn in May 2015, and they eventually had enough evidence to charge the defendant in this case.

The defendant’s case went to trial in June 2018, and he was found guilty both of murder and criminal possession of a weapon. After his sentencing hearing, the defendant promptly appealed.

The Decision

On appeal, the defendant’s main argument was that part of the evidence offered at trial was an infringement of his constitutional rights. Specifically, the person that testified about the victim’s autopsy report was not actually the person that conducted the autopsy. Instead, because the individual who prepared the autopsy report was unavailable, the State had a witness that hadn’t actually participated in the autopsy offer her own conclusions about the cause and manner of the victim’s death.

The U.S. Constitution offers criminal defendants the right to confront witnesses that the prosecution puts against them. Essentially, this means that defendants should be able to cross-examine and question people presenting the jury with evidence that tends to prove them guilty. Here, said the defendant, the person that conducted the autopsy, was not at the trial, so he was denied this right to confront an important witness. What’s more, the actual witness that the State put on did not have knowledge about the autopsy, and the court should not have accepted their testimony as credible.  Generally, that means that it would be very hard to controvert the conclusions in the autopsy report since the person who was testifying did not have actual knowledge of the facts in the report.

The court looked at the trial record and concluded that it was acceptable for the State to bring in this specific witness because the original person that conducted the autopsy was not available for trial. Also, the cause and manner of the victim’s death were not key issues at trial – everyone agreed that the victim was shot and killed and that this was the victim’s cause of death.

Thus, even though the defendant did not get to confront the person that conducted the autopsy, the trial was still fair to the defendant, and his appeal was denied.

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