Case Summaries – Fourth Department Decisions Released on March 27, 2015
Criminal Case Summaries:
- People v Burnett (KA 14-01489) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction because the lower court erred in finding that police lawfully searched him. Police received a 911 call about a man wearing blue jeans and a blue hoodie who displayed a gun to a woman. Ten minutes later and a mile away from the reported location, police observed D, who was wearing blue jeans and a blue hoodie, and “staring” at the police car. They pulled up to him and asked for identification. D retrieved his identification from his pants pocket, provided it to police, they gave it back to him, and he continued walking. Police followed D, who now had his hand in his left pants pocket. An officer exited the car, grabbed D’s hand, and recovered a gun from D’s person. 4AD finds that while police had an objective credible reason to approach D, which then was elevated to a founded suspicion, the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to justify his frisk. 4AD further finds that there was no objective indicia that supported a finding that the officer feared for his safety. The fact that D had his hand in his pocket did not provide a reasonable basis for believing he was armed, because a pants pocket, unlike a waist band or a jacket pocket, is not “a common sanctuary for weapons”. Further, D did not engage in any furtive, suspicious or threatening movements.
- People v Davis (KA 13-01176) – 4AD reverses D’s felony murder convictions, finding that the evidence did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that D’s actions caused the victim’s death. D, with the help of his accomplices, entered the victim’s apartment, assaulted him, and stole property. Either during or shortly after the incident, the victim, who suffered from heart disease, died of a heart attack. 4AD finds that D’s actions were not a sufficiently direct cause of the victim’s death, because it was not reasonably foreseeable that D’s action—breaking into the apartment and assaulting the victim—would cause the victim’s death. 4AD notes that while the medical examiner testified that D’s actions were a “but for” cause of the victim’s death, more than but-for causation is required, and the medical examiner did not testify that D’s actions were a direct cause of the victim’s death, or that his death was reasonably foreseeable.
- People v Jackson (KA 12-02198) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction for burglary and robbery, among other crimes, because the lower court should have suppressed statements D made to police. As a police officer was transporting D to the station, he began reading D his rights, but D interrupted him and said he was aware of them. Another officer questioned D at the station, but did not advise D of his rights until after taking a statement. 4AD finds that D’s statements should have been suppressed because he was never adequately advised of his Miranda rights. The lower court incorrectly concluded that D understood his rights because he had been advised of his rights before providing a statement about three months earlier.
- People v McCullough (KA 11-01614) – 4AD reverses D’s conviction for second-degree murder, among other crimes, because the lower court erred in refusing to allow D to introduce expert testimony regarding factors that could influence the reliability of eyewitness identifications. Applying the two-part inquiry delineated by the Court of Appeals in People v LeGrand (8 NY3d 449), 4AD first finds that this case hinged upon the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, and there was little or no corroborating evidence that connected D to the crime. The eyewitness was present in a barber shop when three men entered and killed the victim. The only testimony that corroborated his identification was that of an accomplice who drove the getaway car. 4AD finds the accomplice’s testimony insufficient to negate the need for expert testimony, because he was of dubious credibility, initially denied knowledge of the crime, and failed to identify D in a photo array. 4AD secondly finds that the expert testimony D sought to introduce regarding weapon focus, event violence, and event duration, was relevant, was generally accepted in the scientific community, was proffered by a qualified expert, and was beyond the ken of the average juror.
- Presiding Justice Scudder and Justice Lindley dissent, concluding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in precluding the testimony. According to the dissent, the eyewitness’s testimony was adequately corroborated by the reliable testimony of the accomplice. The reliability of the eyewitness’s testimony is evident from the fact that he gave a detailed account of the incident. And, the accomplice’s dubious credibility does not render his identification of D unreliable for purposes of corroborating the eyewitness’s identification. The dissent further disagrees that the proposed testimony regarding eyewitness reliability is generally accepted in the scientific community.
Family Law Case Summaries:
- Matter of Alexia J. (CAF 14-00121) – In this neglect case, 4AD affirms the lower court’s order finding that the father derivatively neglected one of the two subject children. The evidence showed that the father neglected the other subject child, violated an order of protection, and pled guilty to DWI for driving while intoxicated with a one-year-old child in the car. 4AD notes that although the one-year-old child was not a subject of the neglect petition, a finding of derivative neglect may be made even if the child who was neglected or abused is not a subject of the neglect petition. 4AD concludes that the father’s neglect of the other children demonstrates fundamental flaws in the father’s understanding of his parental duties, thus justifying a finding of derivative neglect.