Case Summaries – Fourth Department Decisions Released on June 9, 2017

Published on June 26, 2017 12:46 pm by Piotr Banasiak in Appeals Blog

Criminal Case Summaries:

  • People v Clanton (KA 15-01503) – In a 3 to 2 decision, 4AD affirms D’s gun possession conviction following a guilty plea. D was a passenger in a car police stopped for a traffic violation. Upon approaching the car, police detected the odor of marijuana. D attempted to flee, but was apprehended. In response to a pre-Miranda question, D said he had a gun, which police seized. 4AD rejects D’s argument that the gun should have been suppressed, but agrees that D’s statement should have been suppressed, because D was in custody and officers failed to advise him of his Miranda rights before asking questions. 4AD further concludes that the gun would have been inevitably discovered. According to the majority, reversal of D’s conviction is not required, because the court’s failure to suppress D’s statement is harmless error. Because the gun was not suppressed and would have been admissible at trial, there is no reasonable possibility that D would not have pled guilty.
  • Justices Lindley and Troutman dissent. The dissent notes that, in People v Grant, the Court of Appeals explained that when a defendant pleads guilty, it will rarely, if ever, be possible to determine whether the erroneous denial of a suppression motion contributed to a defendant’s decision to plead guilty, unless a defendant makes statements on the record indicating his reasons for pleading guilty. Here, there is no proof that D would still have pled guilty had his statements been suppressed by the trial court.
  • People v Hayward-Crawford (KA 14-01824) – 4AD reverses D’s convictions for arson, attempted insurance fraud, and conspiracy, concluding that D was denied a fair trial due to prosecutorial misconduct. During jury selection, the prosecutor asked whether D “look[ed] like an arsonist” because she was wearing red-colored clothes. On cross-examination, the prosecutor improperly questioned D about her inability to make bail, her codefendant husband’s conviction of the same crimes, and the husband’s criminal history. On summation, the prosecutor made comments that D’s husband was convicted of the same crime and was incarcerated. Under the circumstances, 4AD finds that D was denied a fair trial, even though the court sustained some objections and gave curative instructions.
  • People v Richards (KA 15-01972) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction for criminal possession of a controlled substance because the lower court erred in denying D’s motion to suppress drugs found by police following a traffic stop. D was a passenger in a car police stopped for a Vehicle and Traffic Law violation. After learning that the driver did not have a license, police found that D also did not have a valid license and had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Police arrested D on the warrant and found cocaine on his person during a pat-down search. An officer testified that he did not confirm the validity of the warrant or determine whether it was “still valid”. 4AD finds that the prosecutor failed to prove at the suppression hearing that D was arrested on a valid warrant. Once D challenged the validity of the warrant at the hearing, the prosecutor was required “to make a further evidentiary showing by producing the . . . warrant”. The prosecutor failed to do so, and thus did not establish that police lawfully placed D in a police vehicle and patted him down.
  • People v Towns (KA 13-00892) – 4AD affirms D’s robbery convictions, finding that D was not denied due process when the trial court personally negotiated a plea deal with the codefendant, whereby the codefendant agreed to testify against D in exchange for leniency. 4AD “criticize[s], in the strongest possible terms, the conduct of the court”, but concludes that D was not denied a fair trial by the codefendant’s testimony, and the lower court did not vouch for the codefendant’s credibility. 4AD first notes that because the court’s conduct occurred outside the jury’s presence, the court did not assume the appearance and role of the prosecutor. Second, the codefendant’s plea deal was fully elucidated for the jury, and any prejudice caused by defense counsel’s questioning of the codefendant regarding his deal with the court was remedied by curative instructions.

Family Law Case Summaries:

  • Matter of Fleisher v Fleisher (CAF 16-01179) – In this custody/visitation matter, 4AD affirms the lower court’s order, which granted the mother’s petition to relocate from Monroe County to Orleans County. The mother established that the relocation was in the best interests of the child. The mother would have easier access to mental health treatment and vocational rehabilitation training in Orleans County, and the move would be in her financial benefit. The father’s reasons for opposing the move were “unfounded and arbitrary”, and the move would not interfere with the father’s visitation with the child.
  • Matter of Kleinbach v Cullerton (CAF 16-02036) – In this custody/visitation matter, 4AD modifies the lower court’s order, which granted sole custody to the mother and suspended the father’s visitation. 4AD explains that the suspension of visitation is a drastic remedy that should be ordered only when there are compelling reasons, and there is substantial evidence showing that visitation would be detrimental to the welfare of the child. Here, although the child suffered from anxiety, there was no evidence correlating that condition with the father’s visitation. In addition, the evidence suggested that the child’s anxiety began to subside even during the period when the father was still exercising visitation. 4AD also notes that the only evidence of most of the child’s troublesome behavior came from the mother’s self-serving testimony, and the mother testified that she wished to eliminate the father from the child’s life. 4AD further concludes that the AFC violated his ethical duty to determine the child’s position and advocate zealously for the child’s wishes. The AFC took a position contrary to the child’s wishes in the absence of any justification for doing so. 4AD explains that the AFC’s actions only implicate the visitation portion of the lower court’s order, and the matter is being remitted for a new determination regarding visitation.
  • Matter of Shonyo v Shonyo (CAF 15-01696) – In this custody/visitation matter, 4AD remits the case to the lower court for that court to fashion a more specific visitation schedule for holidays and school breaks. The order provided that holidays and school breaks should be shared as agreed to by the parties. 4AD explains that the order is unrealistic to the extent that it requires the parties to cooperate, due to the acrimonious nature of the parties’ relationship. 4AD notes, in particular, that the parties have had repeated arguments over visitation.