Case Summaries – Fourth Department Decisions Released on December 31, 2015
Criminal Case Summaries:
- People v Frumusa (KA 13-01609) – 4AD rejects D’s claim that the lower court erred in admitting evidence of a civil contempt order finding that companies owned by D failed to abide by the terms of an earlier order. The earlier order had directed D’s companies to turn over certain monies D had diverted to them from another company in which he had a majority interest and which was in receivership. D was charged with stealing money from the company in receivership. 4AD finds that the contempt order did not constitute a finding that D stole money. The order instead showed that D’s companies failed to abide by the order directing them to return funds, and was relevant to D’s intent to commit the charged crime—grand larceny in the second degree.
- Justices Centra and Lindley dissent, finding that the lower court erred in admitting evidence of the contempt order. The dissent first argues that the contempt order does not constitute Molineux evidence, because it does not relate to an uncharged or separate crime, but rather involved a civil judicial finding pertaining to the conduct at issue in the instant criminal matter. The contempt order arose from a previous order that directed D to turn over the very funds that he was accused of stealing, and the order stated that D had “converted” those funds. Even if the order was Molineux evidence, it was overly prejudicial, in that it constituted a judicial finding of D’s larcenous intent. The dissent also notes that the trial court did not provide a limiting instruction, and the prosecutor exploited on summation the fact that the order constituted a judicial finding of responsibility.
- People v Jones (KA 09-02477) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction in the interest of justice, finding that he was denied a fair trial due to pervasive prosecutorial misconduct on summation. The prosecutor repeatedly invoked improper “safe streets” arguments, even after the trial court sustained objections to those statements. The prosecutor referred to defense arguments as “garbage”, “smoke and mirrors” and “nonsense”. She further denigrated D for invoking his right to a trial, and said the defense was based on a “big conspiracy” against D by the prosecutor and prosecution witnesses. Finally, the prosecutor mischaracterized and overstated the DNA evidence.
- People v Kennard (KA 15-00273) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction for, among other things, second and third-degree rape, finding that the lower court should have suppressed the statements D made to police. After waiving her Miranda rights and speaking to police for about an hour, D stated “I think I need to talk to an attorney.” When the officer asked her “Would you like to talk to one?”, D responded “I need to”, or according to the prosecutor, “I’ll need to”. 4AD finds that, regardless of D’s exact words, she unequivocally invoked her right to counsel and questioning should have ceased. 4AD thus suppresses statements that D made to a second officer following that exchange.
- People v Minemier (KA 12-00210) – 4AD affirms D’s conviction, finding that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in denying D’s request to be sentenced as a youthful offender. 4AD specifically holds that a trial court is not required to state the reasons why it is denying youthful offender status, and overrules People v Lee (78 AD3d 1641) and other cases that hold otherwise.
- People v Smith (KA 12-02261) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction for several drug-possession crimes, finding that the lower court improperly denied his request to proceed pro se. The court denied the request on the ground that it was untimely. 4AD explains that D’s request was made before the prosecutor’s opening statement and was thus timely.
- People v Utley (KA 14-00322) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction for endangering the welfare of a child, finding that the lower court erred in responding to a jury note in a manner that permitted the jury to find D guilty based on a theory that was not charged in the indictment. D was charged with sex crimes and endangering the welfare of a child. The endangering charge was predicated on the acts underlying the charged sex crimes. The court, however, improperly instructed the jury that it could also consider acts other than those underlying the charged sex crimes to find D guilty of endangering.
Family Law Case Summaries:
- Matter of Williams v Luczynski (CAF 15-00831) – In this custody/visitation matter, 4AD finds that the Family Court properly denied the mother’s petition for permission to relocate from Clinton to Corning with the parties’ six-year-old daughter. The mother’s primary motivation for the move was to live with her fiancé in Corning. 4AD explains that the mother’s income would not increase as a result of the move, and although her standard of living would improve, it was not apparent from the record that the fiancé could not move to Clinton. Further, the move would adversely affect the relationship of the father with the child, and would separate the child from her half sibling and other family. Under the circumstances, the mother did not meet her burden to show that the relocation would be in the best interests of the child.
- Matter of Figueroa v Figueroa (CAF 15-00146) – In this child support matter, 4AD reverses the Family Court’s order, which denied the father’s objections to the Support Magistrate’s order. 4AD first explains that, in determining a parent’s support obligation, a court may impute income to the parent based on his or her past income or demonstrated earning potential. Here, however, the Support Magistrate erred because it relied on matters not in evidence in order to impute income to the father. 4AD thus reverses and remands the matter for a new hearing.