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New York criminal trial lawyers know that New York criminal trials are all governed by the New York Rules of Evidence (NYRE). The NYRE cover which evidence is admissible and how courts should go about determining whether contested evidence should be admitted and presented to the jury. Given the importance of the matter, many New York criminal trials involve lengthy and detailed arguments about which evidence is admissible in a series of pre-trial motions.

Legal News GavelThrough either a motion in limine or a motion to suppress, parties are able to deal with evidentiary issues in advance of them arising at trial. This has the benefit of preventing the jury from ever hearing certain evidence, rather than objecting to the evidence as it arises and then relying on a curative instruction given by the judge in hopes of preventing the inadmissible evidence from having an effect on the jury’s decision.

Not all evidentiary issues can be resolved in advance of trial, however. In some cases, a witness testifies to an unanticipated fact. In these situations, an experienced criminal defense attorney must object in a timely manner, state the basis of the objection, and be prepared to argue why the objection should be sustained and the testimony stricken. If a defendant fails to object to certain evidence, including witness testimony, in a timely manner, the issue will be waived for appellate review. A recent court opinion in a New York sex crime case alleging the defendant engaged in predatory sexual assault illustrates several common evidentiary issues.

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One of the hallmarks of our criminal justice system that evidence of prior criminal conduct is not permitted to show a persons propensity or tendency to commit crimes.  Except in very limited circumstances evidence of prior criminal conduct is not permitted on the prosecutions direct case.  However, if a defendant chooses to testify the Court is required to hold a pre-trial hearing called a Sandoval hearing to determine in advance what if anything the prosecution can use to cross-examine the defendant about his criminal past.  The purpose of the hearing is to weigh and balance the People’s interest in testing the defendant’s credibility and the defendant’s interest in ensuring that he is not convicted because a jury heard about prejudicial prior criminal conduct.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York burglary case in which the court was tasked with determining if the defendant was entitled to a new trial when the prosecution brought up the fact that he had previously been convicted of a robbery that was currently in the process of being appealed. Ultimately, the court concluded that the lower court improperly allowed the defendant to be cross-examined regarding the prior robbery, and this error was not harmless. Thus, the court ordered a new trial to be conducted.  As we have reported in the past this is not the first case to be revered for such errors.  Please see our prior blog.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

During a trial for burglary, the defendant chose to testify on his own behalf, which is his constitutional right. After the defendant had finished answering the questions posed to him by his own attorney, the prosecution conducted cross-examination.

It was during this cross-examination that the prosecutor asked the defendant about a prior robbery conviction. Normally, evidence of prior criminal acts is not relevant at trial and may not be explored by the prosecution. However, under certain circumstances, convictions for crimes involving dishonesty – such as theft, robbery, etc. – may be the subject of cross-examination.  In addition, one who shows through their past criminal conduct that they are willing to put their interests over those of society’s may be more willing to do so again by lying under oath.

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Post-Judgment motions such as CPL 440.10 motions can be very important to a person already convicted in criminal cases.  Very often an appeal cannot address a problem that occurred at the trial such as a lying witness or ineffective assistance of counsel.  In such cases, a post-judgment motion may be the only solution.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York arson case discussing the defendant’s motion to vacate the judgment, which was denied by the trial court. The appellate court ultimately held that, given the uncontested evidence presented by the defendant in the motion, the lower court should have granted a hearing to determine if the defendant’s motion should have been granted.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

The defendant was charged with first- and second-degree arson. Part of the state’s evidence against the defendant was the testimony of a witness who claimed that the defendant confessed to starting a house fire. After a trial, the defendant was convicted on both counts.

The defendant filed a motion to vacate the judgment and submitted an affidavit from the prosecution witness. The affidavit stated that the witness was told by a police investigator that if she testified on behalf of the defendant, the officer would take her daughter away from her. The witness explained that this was concerning to her. The state offered no contradictory evidence, but the trial court denied the defendant’s motion to vacate summarily, without conducting a hearing on the matter.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York gun crime case discussing whether the arresting officer’s conduct violated the defendant’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Ultimately, the court concluded that the officer possessed a reasonable belief that the defendant was armed or had recently committed a crime, and thus it held that the search of the defendant was permissible.

Legal News GavelPolice Interaction with Citizens

Under New York law, there are four levels of interactions between a police officer and a citizen. The more evidence a police officer has to believe that they are in danger or that the suspect has committed a crime, the more authority the officer has to stop, detain, frisk, and search the individual.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was riding in a vehicle as the front-seat passenger, when the car was pulled over by police for a traffic violation. As one of the police officers approached the vehicle, he noticed that the defendant made a sudden move with his hand from his right shoulder to his lap area.

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New York DWI lawyers have been following a landmark ruling issued earlier this month, when a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York DUI case which determined whether the lower courts properly excluded the results of a breath test indicating that the defendant’s blood-alcohol content was above the legal limit. The court ultimately determined that the warnings provided to the defendant were not correct, and thus the court could not say that he voluntarily consented to the test.  This was a critical decision from New York’s highest Court, the Court  of Appeals, which interpreted the extent of New York’s “two hour rule” for chemical tests in DWI cases.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

The defendant was pulled over and arrested on various charges, including driving under the influence of alcohol. About two hours after his arrest, a police officer asked the defendant if he would consent to a breath test. The defendant refused the test, and the officer read the defendant refusal warnings.

The refusal warnings provided by the officer stated that the defendant’s license would be suspended or revoked, regardless of whether he was ultimately convicted of driving under the influence. The police officer also explained to the defendant that the fact that he refused the breath test could be used against him at trial. The defendant then agreed to take the test, which indicated that his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit.

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Lawyers experienced with drug cases often seek to suppress the drugs recovered by the police based upon a violation of the client’s right to not be subjected to unreasonable searches.  As a general matter, the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as Article I section 12 of the New York State Constitution, prohibit unreasonable searches and seizures. As a general matter, this means that police must obtain a search warrant prior to conducting a search of a person or their belongings. Even when a search warrant is obtained, however, the police must be able to show that there was probable cause of discovering some kind of criminal activity.

Legal News GavelGiven this background, someone who is arrested after a search that was based on a warrant still has the ability to challenge the search. Generally, these challenges claim that the warrant was issued on insufficient facts or that the search exceeded the scope of the warrant.

A recent New York drug possession case illustrates the type of analysis courts use when reviewing a search warrant.

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When it comes to New York assault cases, there are several different subsections under the general statute outlining what constitutes criminal conduct. One form of aggravated assault is when someone “with intent to prevent a police officer from performing a lawful duty, he [or she] causes physical injury to such police officer.”

Legal News GavelThis type of aggravated assault does not require any intent to cause harm to the police officer. Under the law, the prosecution need only establish that the defendant was acting to prevent an officer from performing a lawful duty and that the officer was harmed. A 2017 decision issued by a New York appellate court illustrates just how broadly courts will interpret this language when determining if a conviction was appropriate.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was suspected of theft from a Home Depot store. Police began to follow the defendant as he left the store and soon afterward engaged in a high-speed chase. Eventually, the defendant’s vehicle stopped, and the defendant exited the car and then began to flee.

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In New York criminal cases, the prosecution is under a duty to provide certain evidence to the defendant and his attorney, irrespective of whether the prosecutor intends to use the evidence against the defendant. Importantly, the duty attaches to any evidence that may establish innocence or otherwise be favorable to the Defendant. This concept, first discussed by the United States Supreme Court in the landmark case Brady v. Maryland, has since been expanded to cover any evidence that is in the hands of not just of the prosecution but also of the police.  The material is commonly referred to by Criminal Lawyers as “Brady Material”.

Legal News GavelA recent case illustrates just how seriously courts take the prosecution’s duty to disclose evidence to the defense. Indeed, the court noted that, although the defendant’s argument was not necessarily raised at the appropriate time, the issue was so important that the court ruled on the issue anyway.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was charged with several crimes related to the assault of a minor. Prior to his arrest, and before the police knew where the defendant was, they “pinged” a cell phone that had been used by the minor earlier in the day (by “pinging” a phone, police are able to get a general idea of where the phone is). The police were able to locate the defendant through the cell phone.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a New York robbery case involving a defendant who confessed to robbing a car at gunpoint. The case required the court to determine if the trial court properly excluded evidence suggesting that the defendant was “bipolar, with psychotic features.” Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence was properly excluded because under New York Code Article 250, notice of intent to provide psychiatric evidence must be given in advance.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

The defendant was pulled over by police, and as a result of a search, the police discovered a loaded gun. After police seized the gun, the defendant blurted out that it was a good thing that the police officer quickly drew his gun because otherwise the defendant would have shot him. Police arrested the defendant and took him to a hospital to have him evaluated by a psychiatrist. The defendant was read his Miranda warnings and then admitted to taking the car at gunpoint.

After evaluating the defendant, the psychiatrist determined that the defendant was “bipolar, with psychotic features.” The defense hoped to use that diagnosis to explain why the defendant was not able to knowingly waive his Miranda rights and make the statement to police admitting to the robbery.

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When it comes to New York assault cases, or homicides there are a number of  defenses that someone charged with the offense can assert. An affirmative defense is a defense which the person accused of a crime has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence.  A defense, on the other hand must be disproved by the prosecution, beyond a reasonable doubt.  One of the most common defenses in New York aggravated assault cases is that of self-defense or as its called in New York Justification.  Justification is a defense that must be disproved by the prosecution.

Fist in the FaceIn New York, NY Penal Law 35.15 governs self-defense claims. The statute also includes a defense for those acting in the defense of others. Specifically, that statute requires that the actor possess an honest and reasonable belief that they are facing unlawful physical force, or an imminent threat of unlawful physical force.

The statute thus creates two essential elements of a New York self-defense claim. First, the actor was subject to unlawful force, or the actor honestly had a fear that they were about to face unlawful force. However, even if the actor believes this to be the case, the statute also requires that their belief be a “reasonable” one. This introduces an objective element into the claim, essentially asking the judge or jury to determine whether the defendant’s fears were reasonable under the circumstances.

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